Pop-up dinners, underground suppers create more tasty options

Umstead Hotel chef de cuisine John Childers and pastry chef Evan Sheridan have started The Familiar Supper Club. Their first event is Aug. 10 in Chapel Hill.
Umstead Hotel chef de cuisine John Childers and pastry chef Evan Sheridan have started The Familiar Supper Club. Their first event is Aug. 10 in Chapel Hill.

It used to be that you heard about a good restaurant, made a reservation and went out to eat.

But today’s chefs cannot seem to be constrained by such old school methods.

There are pop-up dinners, underground suppers, collaborative chefs’ events and kitchen takeovers. Sometimes you know where you are dining beforehand. Sometimes you find out only 36 hours ahead of time. Sometimes you know the menu. Sometimes not.

I was struck again by the popularity of such dining experiences when two chefs at The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary started such an event: The Familiar Supper Club.

Those chefs are chef de cuisine John Childers and pastry chef Evan Sheridan. Their first event is Monday, Aug. 10, at an event space inside the Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery in Chapel Hill. The four-course dinner starts at 6:30 p.m., costs $80 per person and raises money for the Abundance Foundation. Details:

It begs the question: What do these chefs get out of the experience? When it comes to fine-dining restaurants in the Triangle, there’s likely no sweeter gig than working at the Umstead Hotel and its restaurant, Herons. They have access to the best ingredients as well as a farmer on the property where the hotel is located growing fruits and vegetables to their specifications.

Childers and Sheridan says they look forward to creating a different experience for diners as well as themselves.

“It is not going to be fine dining,” Childers said. “It will be refined food, Southern-inspired and ingredient-driven.”

For this event, they are working closely with Beechcrest Farm, a small-scale farm outside Chapel Hill, a collaboration the chefs could only do with these dinners.

“It allows us to work with farmers who cannot produce enough for a hotel setting,” Sheridan said.

The original idea was just to do one event but Childers said they got such a great response so far that they plan to do a series of dinners. Stay tuned for more details on the next event.

These events certainly allows chefs to stretch their culinary muscles beyond the confines of the executive chef or restaurant where they work. It allows them to work alongside other chefs they admire or are friends with but rarely see. It all adds up to tasty news for Triangle diners.

If you are looking to enjoy such a dining experience, here’s a short list of such entities:

Thingamajig Thursdays: Chef Jordan Keyser is doing weekly dinners Thursday nights at the Small B&B Cafe in downtown Pittsboro. Keyser, a sous chef at Oakleaf restaurant in Pittsboro, is offering three courses for $25 or six courses for $40. The dinners are 6 to 9 p.m. Reservations can be made by calling 919-808-6408. Info:

ChickenWireNC: Chef Regan Stachler of Little Hen in Apex started this secret supper club after attending a dinner put on by Asheville-based The Blind Pig Supper Club. Stachler so enjoyed that experience that he decided to start one and have a chance to cook with his chef friends. Events vary based on menu and theme. Diners learn the location only about 36 hours beforehand. Info:

Snap Pea Underground: It is the work of chef Jacob Boehm, a Stanford University graduate who spent some time working for James Beard-award-winning chef Andy Ricker of Pok Pok in Portland, Ore. The multi-course dinners are held at a secret location, and the specific address is emailed to the attendees 36 hours beforehand. Dinners last about three hours and often are BYOB. The last set of dinners, scheduled for Aug. 28 and 29, sold out in four hours. Best bet: Sign up for mailing list to receive advance notice of ticket sales. Info:

Breaking Bread: Raleigh’s Tir na Nog Irish Pub has a monthly guest chef dinner series called Breaking Bread. Their next event is Aug. 20 and features chef Shawn Strand. Cost: $39 per person. Info:

Co-Lab Kitchen: An outgrowth of the recent Raleigh Food and Wine Festival, this series of pop-up dinners kicks off Tuesday, Aug. 11. This event will feature four courses highlighting ingredients from different farms and farmers with whom the chefs have partnered. It will be held at Raleigh’s Tir na Nog Irish Pub and costs $70 per person. Info:

Am I missing any recurring pop-up dinners or supper clubs? Send me a note.

Weigl: 919-829-4848;

Twitter: @andreaweigl