I haven’t watched it in a while but I used to love watching Chef’s Table on Netflix. It took you behind the scenes and kitchen of an amazing chef during each episode. The drawback was that I would be sitting in my room, literally drooling while the Chef described his dishes, and all I could do was watch. Torture. I loved watching the chef’s art come to life through the food. It’s food art, which is why I was excited to go to my first pop-up dinner hosted by the amazing Chef Peter Cally. Peter attended the Oregon Culinary Institute in Portland and worked in various restaurants from around the world. He blends artful modernity and traditional tastes in his dishes, while explaining each of his creations in great detail. This is why I was so excited to hear about him starting Culinary Hedonism and instantly signed up to one of his pop-up dinners.
So, what exactly is a pop-up dinner?
Go and venture beyond the searchable, review-friendly pages of Yelp and you’ll find these current secret supper clubs, and pop-up dinners that use food as the starting point of an experimental sensory and social experience. You sign up for a pop-up dinner online and pay a flat fee (in this case it was $125). You don’t know the menu, the place, or the people attending. Sounds kind of fun, right? They e-mail you the location the day before; in this case it was hosted by the gracious host Dr. Ian at his incredible house in Rancho Santa Fe. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Peter and his staff, who offered us a champagne cocktail made with You & Yours Distillery Co‘s gin. 12 guests was the maximum number that can sign up for these dinners, and we all were getting to know each other while anticipating the menu for the night. There was a neurologist, a hydrologist, a director from a news station, and a few lawyers amongst the group. Peter later appeared, asked us to have a seat at this long beautiful table, and described the menu for the evening. He changes up the menu for each pop-up dinner, so every event is always a nice surprise.
We started the night off with the grilled sourdough fresh ricotta with mint chutney, this was definitely my top favorite. He had made the ricotta fresh a few days day before and the mint chutney went so well with everything. It was paired with the Record Family Wines Viognier–a perfect match.
Grilled pork tenderloin was next with roasted apricot and broccoli greens. The pork was flawlessly cooked and matched impeccably with the sweet and bitter apricot.
Roasted beet and feta agnolotti with applewood smoked grapes was next. This. Was. The. Best. Thing. Ever. It was like a small ravioli with freshly made beets inside. The hazelnut pistou (pesto) was homemade, and complimented the pasta so well. I could eat this every day for the rest of my life.
Strawberry and tomato gazpacho was next on the list, a light and refreshing palate cleanser.
The entrée was a pan seared duck breast, polenta and pickled strawberries. It was paired with the Record Family Wine’s Syrah. So many colors and flavors, and I loved the green and red sauce inclusion in this dish.
For dessert, “Bumbleberry” clafoutis (a baked french dessert with berries) topped with sweet corn ice cream. It was an elegant balance of sweet and a little tart, the perfect ending to a fantastic dinner.
Each course was paired by these wonderful wines from the Paso Robles winery Record Family Wines. The Record family members, Randy and Mindy, were amongst the group and sat at the table with us. They were both very kind, fun people and passionate about their wines. Every time a dish came out, it was paired with one of their wines and they would describe each one. My favorite was definitely their 2013 Reserve Syrah (it’s apparently Randy’s favorite too). It was earthy with dark blackberry notes, quite jammy, and very smooth. I even bought a few bottles to take home with me at the end of the night.
Overall, I had such an amazing experience; the vibrant flavors in each dish and the technique and presentation were flawless. Keep an eye on Culinary Hedonism’s website for news of the next event. These pop-up dinners are such a memorable and unconventional experience, they are worth seeking out.