Tuesday February 4, 2014
What a cool concept Jon Staenberg has in The VUDE (The Velvet Underground Dining Experiment) in downtown Seattle. It is a unique venue where both established chefs, and up-and-coming chefs, can have the opportunity to showcase their talents to a small group of seasoned culinarians. It is designed in an intimate, warm setting which seats about 45 people at 3 long community tables. The kitchen is open to the guests, providing them with the opportunity to flow freely from the dining room into the kitchen just as they would if you were making dinner for friends at home. This allows guests to interact with the chef during the evening, making for a unique, fun experience for both the chef and the diners. The standard menu (created by each chef) is at least 6 courses, plus many chefs will also serve hors d’oeuvres as well.
For the chef, the intimacy of The VUDEmakes for a warm, friendly, casual evening of cooking and provides a chance for the guests to interact with the man/woman responsible for the evening’s culinary fare.
So, who would make a guest chef appearance at The VUDE? Well, the culinary bar has already been set pretty high! Seasoned Seattle favorites such as Jason Wilson of Crush andJohn Sundstrom of Lark have done a stint at the VUDE (see the full lineup of previous chefs below). The draw for established chefs to the venue is that it offers a place for them to “get out of the box” of their normal kitchen to play a little bit and to interact in a more intimate way with their guests. And for those up-and-coming “undiscovered” chefs it is a chance to show off what you have, a place where you can test your metal and make your mark.
In fact, in an effort to to feature and promote new chefs (as in chefs with limited or no previous media coverage, not new to cooking), Jon has started a new series called Up and Comer Sunday Suppers which highlights undiscovered chefs in the Seattle region. So, if you’re an experienced chef and you know of a talented chef who has a good reputation amongst his guests and peers but who hasn’t gotten his chance in the spotlight yet, or perhaps a sous chef who needs to take a step forward, talk with them and contact Jon Staenberg about the possibility of an appearance at The VUDE.
Potential candidates must have experience plating upscale multi-course menus for 50 or more people. A chef-mentor is allowed (perhaps expected) to assist in making sure the event runs smoothly (after all, guests are paying!)
If you are interested in being a guest chef and want to know how the kitchen is equipped jump to that section.
VELVET UNDERGROUND DINING EXPERIENCE
After gathering this basic info about The VUDE I had some interview questions for owner Jon Staenberg.
Q: As regards your long-term vision, what reputation do you hope to have among chefs? What do you hope chefs will think about cooking at the VUDE?
Jon: For chefs, we want to be a place equivalent to On The Boards or Townhall in Seattle; the kind of place to do things that are outside the box, that is reflective of where they are now, what they have been thinking about and brings together new ideas and a great, enthusiastic and appreciative (though critical) audience. The VUDE wants to be a blank slate where new “art” can be tried and trialed. And most importantly we want to respect and celebrate all that is part of this amazing food culture that is changing the world today.
Q: Same question but for your diners. What do you hope diners will think of the VUDE?
Jon: Years ago someone said “kill the restaurant.” We do NOT want to do that but we do want the opportunity to help shape what people think of as a great dining experience. We believe that deeper connections with the food, the wines, the chefs and even the other diners can create a more memorable experience. Diners want and are starting to want more. They want the stories behind the stories. They want personal moments. They want a total experience. And we should not forget what they expect, and we want to deliver great food and wine.
Q: What is the ultimate goal of the VUDE?
Jon: It is an experiment and The VUDE is our laboratory. Is there ever any ultimate goal? It is a work in progress. We have learned a lot and inspired many. If we keep doing that, then we will be good.
Q: How can a guest chef appearance at the VUDE benefit the chef’s business?
Jon: One of the main goals of The VUDE is to help people discover. Like a TED talk perhaps. Sure we have a large list of foodies who hear about every event and we are active on social media and we create great content of the event itself, but we now are starting to hear people say, “Yeah that chef has cooked at The VUDE” as if that is also a pretty good stamp of excellence. We are curators and I think people get that we are only doing events and bringing in chefs that are new, fresh and original.
Q: Does the guest chef have to pay for all the food?
Jon: No! We don’t expect any chef to be out of pocket ever and we hope depending on the chef, theme, event etc that we can provide a few shekels for their time and effort. We really have three kinds of events (loosely categorized):
- Celebrity Chefs
- Up and Comers
- Private event chef-ing opportunities
Each of these is a bit of a different model. Generally, the more a chef helps us drive the marketing and sales the more we share in the net proceeds.
Let’s Check It Out!
Jon invited me down to actually attend one of the events. So on Tuesday February 4th I made the 2 hour trek to Seattle for an enjoyable evening of food and wine. Specialty cocktails this night were prepared by an up-and-coming chef, Jonathan Jason Proville, who is on the list to make a guest chef appearance at The VUDE. His cocktails included 2 creations: The Rye & Smoke had Old Overholt Rye whiskey, Lemon, Black Tea, and Smoked Olive Oil! A very cool, complex, satisfying drink. The Sherry Cider had a Washington Apple Cider, Amontillado Sherry, and Lillet Blanc…a refreshing cocktail.
This particular night’s guest chef was Bill Patterson, chef/owner of Orcas Island’s Sazio di Notte, a restaurant with strong Italian roots. Chef Patterson uses local products as much as is possible, and raises his own pigs for the restaurant. He is passionate about his food, and unafraid to tell you his opinion about food! When I asked if he was using Penn Cove Mussels, he exclaimed “Oh no no! Those are much too small. I prefer Taylor Shellfish oysters because they are larger, more mature, and therefore have more flavor. The same is true of baby vegetables… they are immature and lacking in flavor.” And true to form, Chef Patterson’s food was delicious and not lacking in good flavor!
It’s difficult for us chefs when someone else critiques our food saying things like, “Oh it needed a little bit more of this” or “It could have used a little less of that” etc. And because we are chefs, we tend to be hyper critical of everyone’s food…even our own (if we’re honest!) So I’m not going to go through and critique each one of chef Bill’s courses. Instead, I’ll simply say that he is clearly passionate about his food and he has excellent technique and flavors. The mussels were served just as they opened, the salad had a perfect balance of flavor, his pasta (freshly made on premises) was exquisite! And the osso bucco was perfectly fork tender. If you find yourself on Orcas Island, you must plan to dine at Chef Patterson’s place, you won’t be disappointed.
Chef William Patterson
Sazio di Notte
February 4, 2014
Ceci con Gamberi
Rye and Smoke
Inama, Soave Classico Foscarino
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Polenta con Gorgonzola
2010 Hand of God, Fingerprint Series Red
2010 Hand of God, Old Vine Malbec
Caffe Ladro, Hand of God Unico Blend Coffee
The kitchen has one commercial Viking gas range with a full-size oven and six top burners. Commercial size pots, pans and brazier/rondos are available. There is a fair amount of counter space with an 8 foot prep table against the wall and a center prep/plating table about 12 feet long. There is a commercial dish machine and dish racks, and one over-sized refrigerator with a lower freezer compartment, so refrigeration is a little limited…plan accordingly.
For guest chefs, servers are provided by The VUDE so the chefs only have to focus on cooking and plating. A variety of nice plates, bowls, silver, glasses, Riedel wine glasses, cloth napkins, and other standard service essentials are provided, as well as someone who will do the dishes. However, if you want to use platters you should bring your own.
Chef Thomas Black
Bill the Butcher
Cormac Mahoney – Madison Park Conservatory
Jason Wilson – Crush
John Howie – John Howie Steak
Tibeiero Simone – “La Figa” cookbook
John Payne – formerly of Herb Farm
David Barzelay – Lazy Bear
Tomer Shneor – Nomad Dinners
Renee Erickson – Boat St Café
Chris Keff – Flying Fish
Zoi Antonitsas – Westward
Jason Vickers – FEZ Food Truck
Chris Blanco – Raikes Foundation
Jason Stratton – Aragona
John Sundstrom – Lark Restaurant
John and Caprial Pence
Tha Marc Restaurant
Chris Lobkovich – Brass Tacks
Mike Easton – Il Corvo Pasta
Chris Opsata – Brass Tacks
Meeru Dhalwala – Shanik
William Belikis – Mistra
Want to join the ranks of guest chefs who have appeared at The VUDE? Contact Jon Staenberg to discuss the possibiliies!
Have you been a guest chef, or have you attended one of the dinners? Leave a comment below!
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David Buchanan is a professional chef and author of Chefs-Resources.com, a site geared towards providing chefs and culinarians useful info to help in their kitchens.