This is an archival story that predates current editorial management.
This archival content was written, edited, and published prior to LAist's acquisition by its current owner, Southern California Public Radio ("SCPR"). Content, such as language choice and subject matter, in archival articles therefore may not align with SCPR's current editorial standards. To learn more about those standards and why we make this distinction, please click here.
5 Questions For Dinner Lab, A Southern Pop-Up Hitting L.A.
Los Angeles has become known for its pop-up and street food culture, so it's only natural that a well-established underground dining community like that of New Orleans-based Dinner Lab would want to join the party. The pop-up, which takes a unique user-generated approach to its dining experiences, will be launching the sale of it's first L.A. membership tomorrow, so we decided to chat with CEO Brian Bordainick about what makes Dinner Lab so special, and why they decided to come to L.A.
LAist: Tell us about how this all got started.
Brian Bordainick: We launched back in July of 2011. In New Orleans, we're fortunate to have the ability to drink until 6:00 a.m., but there's hardly any options for a decent meal past 11:00 p.m., so we wanted to try and address this by doing "pop-up" meals with chefs around the witching hour. While it was a ton of fun, we realized pretty quickly that it wasn't sustainable.
As we kept interacting with chefs, though, they consistently asked us for opportunities to experiment with new ideas that they had, and that's when we began to understand the real disconnect between what most chefs want to be cooking and what they are executing on a daily basis. We saw an opportunity to bring together folks to try these new dishes in non-traditional environments to see if we could help aspiring chefs get the critical feedback they need to develop new concepts and even to see if grandma's recipe belonged on a restaurant menu.
Doing events in random locations means that we are not necessarily doing things in a traditional manner. By operating as a private club, our diners understand that we are preparing food in our commissary kitchen which is fully certified and inspected and up to health code regulations, but when we bring our mobile kitchen on site, we are cooking in some pretty raw spaces. Our insurance agent, lawyer, and city officials appreciate the fact that we are operating not open to the public.
What makes Dinner Lab different form other supper clubs and pop-ups?
We've made chaos our core business concept. Most pop-ups don't really like to change as many of the things that we do. We work in a different location, with a different chef, and different people every time we do an event. This requires an insane amount of organization and pre-work, and when most people realize the amount of lift it takes to execute events like we do, they look at us like we're crazy people.
We also try to keep our price point low to be as inclusive as possible. Our membership base in every city is very eclectic, and we like to keep it that way. Each member has the ability to attend events in other markets, and this is kind of cool for those that travel.
Another thing we do a bit differently is our feedback mechanism for the chef. We provide all of the feedback that we aggregate during an event to the chef so that he/she may grow. This is where things get interesting. If a chef does a meal that gets over a certain level of feedback, we'll actually take him/her and fly them to one of our other markets to continue to develop and iterate their menu concept further.
You tailor your dinners depending on the profiles and interests of your diners. Can you tell me more about that?
Each diner fills out a profile, which gives us the ability to curate meals based on the interests of our diners. We also tie feedback back into those members so that we know how certain types of foods are being received. As we develop menu concepts, we pull on this information to try to match the interests of diners with the interests of the chefs, and are starting to use some technology to really begin to dive deeper into this.
You really like octopus from the Colombian meal, and like the homemade cavatelli from this other meal? We're starting to experiment with piecing that together to take educated guesses on what people like. As we do more and more meals, we keep honing in on this.
What was the draw of launching in L.A.?
Los Angeles is attracting some of the best chefs in the world, and has a consumer base that is all about going out. We're excited to be there because where these two things exist, there is usually some hidden talent that can be utilized.
What will make the experience in L.A. different from other cities?
We're really looking forward to being in L.A. because there's such great talent here and the list of amazing locations to explore is endless. With the weather being more cooperative than many other cities, we'll be able to go into some spots that are really interesting for our members to check out while dining on some stellar cuisine.
You can watch a video about the Lab below: