On food television — Iron Chef, Chopped, The Next Food Network Star — restaurant chefs are in a constant state of battle, knives out and ready to stab fellow chef-testants in the back. Not so in Philly’s kitchens, where cooking lately has skewed less Top Chef and more supper club.
Take, for example, the week in late June when Stephen Starr paired up with Aimee Olexy, of Kennett Square’s Talula’s Table, for the first-ever Philly “pop-up” restaurant, a three-day collaboration featuring Talula’s fare in Starr’s (otherwise vacant) Washington Square space. Later that week, Zahav chef Michael Solomonov hosted a wacky Shore-themed bash with an all-star lineup of nine local chefs — including Fork’s Terence Feury and Bibou’s Pierre Calmels — riffing gourmet on Boardwalk eats (foie gras “popsicles”!), clad in muscle tees and mullet wigs. Even bars got in on the swapping game, with Oyster House inviting drink-slingers from around town to create and serve nautically themed cocktails.
So why the sudden lovefest? Mémé chef David Katz — who started the trend last summer with a five-course collaborative pork dinner — credits industry camaraderie that’s grown strong along with the food scene. Solomonov sees it as a way to serve an increasingly demanding dining public. “People expect more when they dine out,” he says. “Spending $600 at a fancy French restaurant isn’t what they want anymore. And you’re locked into things when you have a restaurant: cost, style, what you cook. Throwing a wrench in that is exhilarating. It’s about the pop culture of food.”
One thing it’s not about: the dough. “We’re not getting rich,” Solomonov says. “The Shore party didn’t compare to a great Saturday night.” That’s not stopping anyone from planning more collabs: Starr hosted his second pop-up in late July (this time with Kanella), and has plans for more (dates and chefs TBA). And Katz says the pork crew will reunite after the busy fall season. It all must be great marketing, right? Sure, Katz says: “It could benefit me to have Bibou’s regulars, who’ve never come to my restaurant.” But the priority, he insists, is fun. “And cooking pork,” he says, “is the easiest way to have fun.”