The e-mail arrived at 11 a.m. three weeks ago: Jerry Seinfeld’s former private chef would be cooking a seven-course meal based on the history of the Lower East Side. Location? TBD.
That’s all Dinner Lab members knew when word spread about their next offering. They had five hours to decide whether to buy tickets; they went on sale at 4 p.m. and were gone in minutes.
This week, select foodies realized where their fine feast was being served — the Chinatown YMCA at East Houston and Bowery.
“I think it’s kind of cool,” said member Jessica Sinaly, sipping a glass of wine in Classroom 4 on the second floor. “It’s exotic in a way.”
Wednesday marked the latest adventure for Dinner Lab, the membership network that serves upmarket pop-up dinners twice-weekly in disparate locales (think abandoned warehouses, helipads, and churches). Founded last year in New Orleans, Dinner Lab has since spread to Austin, Nashville, and Los Angeles, and five more markets are on tap in the coming months.
Alex McCrery, 35, who in addition to the Seinfeld residence also cooked at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole, designed the menu for 130 attendees, most of whom arrived in pairs (members can bring a guest) but ate community style. The courses tracked the immigration patterns of the Lower East Side, starting from 1760s James “Delancey Farm” (farm vegetable crudo, kale chimichurri, and beet yogurt) through 1880s Russian Jewish (black garlic bialy, pickle pearls, and pastrami salmon) and culminating in 2000s Hipster (toasted housemade mint marshmallow, chocolate crumb, and espresso crunch). Between courses, diners rate the taste, creativity, and restaurant worthiness of each dish.
A New Orleans native, McCrery lives at Delancey and Eldridge. Coincidentally, he swims once a week at the YMCA. “This feels like a neighborhood,” he said. “In such a big city, that’s cool.”
For CEO Brian Bordainick, 28, the Dinner Lab model is successful, if taxing. Each market is profitable. New York City’s 700 memberships sold out in minutes, and the three dinners to date have been highly sought after — an area surgeon recently admitted to stepping out of a surgery exactly at 4 p.m. to nab tickets.
But Bordainick is traveling three of every four weeks. He recently fell asleep on a flight and couldn’t remember where he was heading when he woke up. “It’s a nightmare,” he said, but he relishes the growth-generated challenge of serving dinners two times a week in 10 markets with changing venues, chefs, themes, and menus. “I probably have heart palpitations and a black lung.”
Wednesday’s dinner was more than two months in the making. The YMCA was selected for its representation of community. “The history of a zip code with a place that brings people together from everywhere,” said Bordainick. “It’s a little weird, but fuck it, it’s what we do.”
Bordainick, who plans to make twice as many New York City memberships available over time, is a former high school history teacher through Teach for America. He has few regrets about leaving that field for food service.
“I wanted to be in a space where people didn’t take themselves so seriously,” he said. “I’m not going into Afghanistan and trying to change the world, but sometimes it’s about the little things in life. And I love that.”
1760s James “Delancey Farm” – farm vegetable crudo | kale chimichurri| beet yogurt
1840s German – pork pate | pretzel | mustard seed butter
1880s Russian Jewish – black garlic bialy | pickle pearls | pastrami salmon
1900s Italian – tomato lasagna | Alleva Dairy ricotta | herb crisp
1960s Dominican – crab & pork soupy rice | jalapeno | cilantro | radish
1960s Chinese – duck sausage | peanut cracklins | hot chili sauce
2000s Hipster – toasted housemade mint marshmallow | chocolate crumb | espresso crunch
Correction: An earlier version of this post was revised to correct spelling of Alex McCrery’s name.