By Savannah Evanoff | Northwest Florida Daily News
Four talented chefs will prepare dinner and wine at 6 p.m. Jan. 21, but they won’t tell you where.
It’s a surprise.
Those who purchase tickets for the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation’s first dinner of a planned series of pop-up dinners will not find out details until the morning of the event. The foundation will disclose location, theme and attire to the guests via email.
John Russell, DCWAF president, said the dinner will raise money to cover the expenses of the foundation’s annual Destin Charity Wine Auction, which raises money for children’s charities.
“The idea is to get people out of the norm and give them something that they haven’t done before and ultimately do it in a way that we cover our expenses and make some money to help pay the fundraising costs of the auction,” Russell said. “For us, it’s always our focus on our mission to raise money for kids and finding unique ways to do that.”
Tickets for Volume 1, the first pop-up dinner, are $250 and are available online at dcwaf.org/tickets.
The Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation didn’t come up with the idea of pop-up dinners alone.
The foundation had a little help from Scott Schwartz, the renowned chef behind Jacksonville’s exclusive Legend Series. Schwartz co-founded the series of pop-up dinners four years ago to elevate the culinary scene in Jacksonville, he said.
“What separates it from all other wine dinners and things like that is really this element of surprise,” Schwartz said. “Not knowing what you’re gonna get. Not knowing where you’re going.”
The Legend Series succeeded in its goal, with tickets often selling out in minutes, Schwartz said. Congressmen have pleaded for a ticket after an event sold out, he said.
The Legend Series has featured dinners in unexpected locations with added features such as in a cemetery with horse-drawn carriages and on a historic theater stage with an opera singing from the balcony above. The location is often the biggest challenge of the dinner, Schwartz said.
“As much of a pop-up surprise for the guests, a lot of times it’s a surprise for the chefs, too,” Schwartz said. “Because we have no idea what we’re getting into until we see that space for the first time.”
Chefs will adapt to locations with no running water or electricity. Sometimes Schwartz will bring a generator, camp stove or create hand-washing stations, he said.
It’s more situational art than a wine dinner, Schwartz said.
“You go in where there is nothing and you create a restaurant and a fine dining experience, and four hours after the event is over, you would never know that anything ever took place there,” Schwartz said.
When Russell was looking for another event in January to amp up excitement for the foundation’s annual auction, the Legend Series came to mind. He asked Schwartz to help, and the planning took off.
“The goal for this one is to bring the excitement of the pop-up concept to Destin,” Schwartz said. “They do such a great job with their event in the spring, it’s kind of a way to add a little fun thing in between the big events and it’s something different and something new.”
“It just flows”
Although most of the event details are secret, the chefs’ names are not.
The Volume 1 pop-up dinner will feature Schwartz, chef and owner of 29 South; Craig Richards, St. Cecilia and The Optimist executive chef; Graham Laborde, Bernadine’s executive chef and local chef at Bijoux in Miramar Beach, Jack McGuckin.
Although he has never participated in a pop-up dinner, the idea was not new to McGuckin. Not long before the foundation requested him, he had discussed pursuing a similar idea with friends, he said.
“It’s gonna be a lot of fun,” McGuckin said. “I’m really excited to start this out, because I think it will take off.”
He can’t reveal what dish he will prepare, but McGuckin said he will pull from past experiences.
The four chefs will collaborate to prepare a meal for the guests, and McGuckin looks forward to the concept or working together, he said. In a typical night of service, he has a lot on his to-do list.
“In this instance, it’s more just concentrating on one dish,” McGuckin said. “So I would say I’m able to pour my energy and emotion into one thing in a way that hopefully vibes with everybody else. I’ll just feed off everyone else’s energy.”
In a past Legend Series event, Schwartz said the participants could watch the chefs while they prepared the meal. Many of the viewers responded with how impressed they were and enjoyed watching the teamwork, he said.
“Once you put us in the room, once you put us behind the stove, once you put us at the table when we’re plating up, it’s like we’ve worked together our whole lives,” McGuckin said. “Every single person knows what the other person wants when they want it, and it just flows.”
Schwartz does not think the Miramar Beach pop-up dinner will be any different.
“I think whoever’s lucky enough to get a ticket to this is going to be telling all of their friends,” Schwartz said. “I promise you the next time this happens here, the tickets will sell out so quickly people will be happy they got to experience it the first time.”