As Houston's foodies obsess over which next hot opening they'll line up to attend, it's entirely possible that one of this year's most interesting new restaurants is located in a gas station parking lot. That would be the Kipper Club Test Kitchen, the pop-up series from Treadsack, the expansionist restaurant group that operates Down House and D&T Drive-Inn and plans to open Hunky Dory and Foreign Correspondents.
After two dinners, one featuring former Feast chef Richard Knight previewing the food he'll serve at Hunky Dory and another with Foreign Correspondents chef PJ Stoops cooking bycatch with Knight, Underbelly's Chris Shepherd and Uchi's Kaz Edwards, Treadsack announced Kipper's full fall schedule Wednesday.
Kipper Club offers a place where chefs can cook for appreciative diners who are looking to try something new.
The varied roster has three basic groups: familiar names like the JW Marriott's Erin Smith and Reef chef Ryan Lachaine; up-and-coming chefs like Ross Warhol from the Pelican Club in Galveston and Amalia Pferd from Good Dog Houston; and out-of-town guests like Ned Elliot of Austin's Foreign & Domestic.
Still, whether the cooks are local, experienced or new to Houston, they're united by one common trait. "All of the people we've invited have a point of view and a sense of personality to their cooking," Treadsack executive chef Benjy Mason tells CultureMap.
Having transformed the former Tipsy's Soul Food space with a large community table, new lighting and a full kitchen of cooking equipment, Kipper Club offers a place where chefs can cook for appreciative diners who are looking to try something new.
"It would be a mistake to have this space and not have some fun with it," Mason notes.
Two dinners in, Mason reports that diners have embraced the concept, which delivers the potential for culinary fireworks that makes pop-ups exciting while mitigating the discomfort and service hiccups that can make them maddening. Some patrons have even asked about season tickets.
Mason sounds the most pleased by the two contenders series dinners, which each feature five up-and-coming chefs. Citing restaurants like Oxheart, The Pass & Provisions and Pax Americana as examples, Mason notes that "most of the restaurants that have changed the conversation in Houston got their start as pop-ups."
The goal of the contender series is to "take a look at the future and see what's coming next."
While some pop-ups still occur, "it's not as obvious when you look around who the next generation will be." The goal of the contender series is to "take a look at the future and see what's coming next."
Another highlight looks to be the "Sunday Dinner with Friends," which unites Ciao Bello chef Bobby Matos with Smith and her longtime boyfriend, Killen's Barbecue chef Patrick Feges. Feges tells CultureMap that he and Matos worked together before at Brennan's. "We've talked about doing something like this for awhile," Feges writes in a text. "We have a rough draft of the menu. Gonna be a lot of smoke."
The final component is out-of-town chefs from Austin, Vermont and Fredericksburg. "The guys from Vermont are awesome," Mason says.
In addition to giving Houstonians a chance to try chefs they may not have heard of, bringing the chefs to town allows them to experience the city's diverse culinary scene. Expect even more out-of-towners with the winter season, but that's still under development.
One unexpected benefit has been the opportunity for Mason and Treadsack co-owner Chris Cusack to participate in regular restaurant service; Cusack helps out with front of house responsibilities like serving wine, while Mason can be found helping plate courses.
"Neither of us get to do that in our day to day, but both of us have done that before. It's fun to get a chance to do that again," Mason says.
Fun for the owners. Fun for the chefs. Fun for the diners. That's why Kipper Club needs to be on everyone's must-try list.
Kipper Club Test Kitchen Fall Schedule:
October 24 - Contender’s Dinner #1: Chefs Amalia Pferd, Steph Harmon, Brandon Silva, Ross Warhol, Johnny Wesley - $65
November 14 - Contender’s Dinner #2: Chefs Lyle Bento, Steven Ripley, Mara Serna, Antoine Ware - $60
November 15 - Fish School (part two: Crustaceans) with Professor PJ Stoops - $90
November 16 - Sunday Dinner with Friends: Chefs Bobby Matos, Patrick Feges, and Erin Smith - $100
November 21 - Vegetarian Dinner: Chef Zach Ladwig, Inn at Dos Brisas - $100
November 23 - A Proper Brunch: Chef Richard Knight with pastries by Pastry Chef Samantha Mendoza - $30/45
December 5 - Misery Loves Company: Chefs Nathaniel Wade & Aaron Josinsky, Vermont - $100
December 7 - Gulf Coast by Southeast Asia: Chefs PJ Stoops and Ryan Lachaine, farmer Sameth Nget - $100
December 12 - Feast of the Seven Fishes: Chef Ned Elliot, Foreign & Domestic, Austin - $100
December 19 - German Beer Dinner: Chef Adam Yoho, Otto’s, Fredericksburg - $80