Diners seeking a new experience might want to try Dinner Underground. Not quite the secret society it sounds like, the random eating adventures are the brainchild of Newtown chef Kris Plummer, widely known as Chef Plum. Assisted by sous-chef Justin Kern, also a Newtown resident, Chef Plum has brought the pop-up restaurant concept to the community, hosting three Dinner Underground events to date, all at Steve Ford’s Butcher’s Best on South Main Street in Newtown.
“Anywhere there’s a kitchen and the space to do it,” said Chef Kern, the two experienced chefs are bringing new opportunities to residents hungering to dine out in style and dig into fare that is largely local, fresh, and “taken to a level that’s a crazy, fun route.”
Chef Plum is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and has 18 years of practical experience under his apron. He won a special episode of the Food Network’s Chopped this past April, and has competed on ABC’s The Taste. Since moving to Newtown in 2006, the Virginia native has worked as a personal chef and private caterer, and is currently working further with Food Network.
Also a huge football fan, Chef Plum is a food writer for proplayerinsiders.com and recently facilitated the Sandy Hook Promise “Gridiron Chef” benefit in New York City, where New York Giants’ Stevie Brown vs. Washington Redskins’ Rob Jackson faced off across the plate, not the pigskin.
“The hotel/restaurant business is not conducive to having a family,” said Chef Plum, the father of three girls, including twins. It was through his children’s preschool that he connected with Chef Kern, and the two found their chemistry and philosophies of food a perfect fit. Like Chef Plum, Chef Kern has been in the food business since he was a teen.
Chef Plum conceived the idea of pop-up restaurants in Newtown after visiting Los Angeles last fall, where he met chefs “who do this for a living. I thought it sounded like a lot of fun,” he said.
A friend of Steve Ford’s, Chef Plum approached him about using the new Butcher’s Best space on Sunday evenings, when the store is closed. Mr Ford enthusiastically endorsed the idea, and in March, Chef Plum and Chef Kern produced the first Dinner Underground prix fixe dinner for 30 lucky diners. They hosted another dinner in April, and most recently, on May 26.
What they love about Dinner Underground is that it fits into their personal schedules, said Chef Kern and Chef Plum. “It’s local, it’s a manageable size, and it’s just one night,” said Chef Plum. It is a restaurant without the overhead and hassles that come with owning a brick and mortar business.
Guests find out about Dinner Underground events through Chef Plum’s social networks and word of mouth. As much as they believed that the pop-up restaurant idea would draw foodies from the area, they were surprised when the 30 tickets for the March dinner quickly sold out and they had to start a waiting list.
The chefs’ enthusiasm for their pop-up restaurant is only surpassed by their enthusiasm for the philosophy that drives the menu.
“The pop-up thing is starting to open eyes,” said Chef Plum, and those eyes are starting to see the flavorful benefits to purchasing and preparing food procured as locally as is possible.
“CIA changed my life, but when I had kids, I realized how much bad food is out there for kids, and how much fun food can be. And once I realized how much we have available right here in Newtown — why wouldn’t we use it?” asked Chef Plum. As might be expected, the premium meats, poultry, and seafood sold at Butcher’s Best are highlighted on the Dinner Underground menus. Chef Plum has great praise for Newtown farmers, such as Shortt’s Farm on Riverside Road, and Farming 101 on Hattertown Road, as well as farms lying just outside the skirts of town.
A Dinner Underground experience begins with servers greeting guests at the door to take wraps and offer a glass of champagne. Friends can be seated together, but random seating also allows for new friendships to be forged over the course of the meal. “It’s fun sometimes, to see people seated with people they don’t know. At the end of the night, you’ll be hugging them good-bye!” declared Chef Plum.
Each meal is a series of brief talks by Chef Plum about each course, and pairings with appropriate wines, or in the case of the May 26 dinner, with beers supplied by sponsor Saranac Brewery out of Utica, N.Y.
“It’s a chance for us to introduce new foods to people that they might not have seen before,” Chef Plum said. Those items might be the sweet Japanese shishito peppers, charred and salted and paired with Saranac’s Blueberry Blonde Ale. Generally mild, the odd shishito pepper in the bunch might surprise the palate with a burst of fire, cautioned Chef Plum, but it just adds to the fun.
The Asian Silkie chicken provides excitement for the chefs, both in preparation and in watching as guests encounter the black-fleshed chicken. Fried watermelon with pickled rind, lamb lollipops, fermented black garlic, and lemon miso are just a few more tongue ticklers that have had Dinner Underground diners salivating.
“If you’ve got good stuff, you don’t do a lot with it. We’re pushing the local foods and local farms, and places like Steve’s [Butcher’s Best],” said Chef Plum. “It’s great fun for us, and if we’re excited about the food, it’s contagious,” he said.
“You can do something different every day of the week,” Chef Kern said. “You keep it simple, but you are the artist and can be as creative as you want. There are endless possibilities,” he said.
“Go get it from a farm,” urged Chef Plum. “We’re going to lose them if we don’t support them. The farmers can tell you amazing things about their foods,” he stressed.
The two chefs plan to continue to offer Dinner Underground at the Butcher’s Best location, at least through the summer, and are in talks with other area food locations for possible other sites.
For more information on where a Dinner Underground might pop up next, visit www.plumluvfoods.com.