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The face of fine dining is changing in Detroit. Renowned visual artist Janna Coumoundouros and innovative gourmet chef Matthew Baldridge have created Dinner Club Pop Up, a recurring event that makes for a delightful evening out. Imagine elaborate four course meals set against the backdrop of expertly curated art exhibits, a soundtrack of eclectic modern hits, and the occasional pop culture classic projected silently on one wall, in rotating venues. Coumoundouros, a multi-talented artist and possibly Detroit’s busiest woman, explains, “I'm passionate about the project because I believe in what we are doing. There is a need here in the Detroit area for it.”
Business collaborators and recently engaged Coumoundouros and Baldridge’s overall vision was a singular, unique dining experience: an inviting, intriguing affair combining modern art culture immersion with an exquisite, painstakingly chosen menu prepared by culinary artist Baldridge. The final piece fell into place initially with the addition of Derek John and The Storefront Gallery. While Dinner Club Pop Up began at the gallery, the effort is now a traveling feast, making appearances at such Metro Detroit venues as Treat Dreams, Supino’s Pizza, The Menagerie, Always Brewing and even as far as Columbus, Ohio. The overwhelming success of Dinner Club lies in the fact that people are looking for something new and interesting to savor at an affordable price. With events frequently oversold and patrons asking for more, the vision is working.
The gourmet chef handling the delectable menu is well prepared for the challenge. In addition to his recent stints at the esteemed Revolver restaurant, Matthew Baldridge’s 16 year history in Detroit includes serving as Executive Chef of the upscale Cliff Bells, Chef de Cuisine at the Rattlesnake Club, and Executive Chef at Seldom Blues. Early on, Baldridge worked side by side with James Beard award-winning chef Jimmy Schmidt. His meals exhibit a French influence with a modern twist. Baldridge also confers with local growers and urban farmers to develop the best cuisine possible based upon the season, while giving back to Detroit’s noted rebounding economy. Several Michigan-made brands are incorporated into the meals from time to time, including Treat Dreams ice cream, Better Made potato chips, Sanders Hot Fudge, Mary Ann’s Soda and Faygo. One memorable Pop Up was even Faygo themed, complete with Faygo’s blessing and vintage posters donated by the company.
Janna Coumoundouros provides the artistic flair that drives the endeavor. She frequently works from home on much of the planning and marketing for Dinner Club Pop Ups. In addition to fine art photography and fashion photography incorporating a variety of mediums, Coumoundouros crafts unique, nationally recognized jewelry from typewriter parts, old cash registers, bits and pieces of auto parts and any other metals that catch her eye, and also runs her own successful real estate photography and virtual tour company. She even created the winning dress for the Detroit Institute of Arts Samurai Design Competition. Coumoundouros visits her art studio from time to time, mostly for fashion photo shoots and as a space to exhibit new work. She acknowledges all of these as hard won freedoms she’s thrilled to finally have. Her jewelry and print work is an eclectic, stunning mix of provocative pieces (see Coumoundouros' own Made in Michigan feature here).
For Dinner Club Pop Ups, Coumoundouros’ diverse talent means a constantly revolving art exhibit to enjoy before, during and after dinner. The artist describes the endeavor lovingly as a “perfect symphony of teamwork” from the moment patrons enter the space, through the warm welcome, to each course being carefully and aesthetically prepared and delivered to the intimate 20 person seating, to the moment guests are graciously bid farewell. Regardless of where the evenings are hosted, an art gallery or quaint café or lush, private Detroit mansion, involving all the senses makes the experience rich and relaxing.
The food is to die for. If you need proof, check out the photos below, or better yet, make a reservation. Menus include such courses as cilantro risotto, quail egg, smoked pork stock, peanuts and lime zest; the loaded potato with soft egg yolk, caviar, and creme fraiche and bacon; peppers stuffed with orange coriander-roasted pork with potato pearls and mojo sauce; and delectable desserts. Each meal is completely unique from the one before, giving Baldridge enviable creative license.
To fully appreciate the passion and drive poured into the endeavor by The Artist and The Chef, Dinner Club Pop Up must be lived first-hand. In the name of research, I secured tickets and invited a date who happens to have a culinary background. The gallery hosting tonight’s meal is small and inviting. The quiet soundtrack for the night is an eclectic mix of modern hits and B-side tunes from contemporary artists. Say Anything is projected on one wall, muted, and one knows exactly what’s going on in the popular classic with just a glance. The patrons seated at the long table down the center of the gallery are friendly and animated in anticipation of the four courses about to be served.
Janna Coumoundouros is the attractive redhead filling water glasses before setting the carafe down and moving to the head of the table to join Baldridge, a tall guy in a long white chef’s apron and Chuck Taylors. The Artist begins to speak, thanking those seated for attending and explaining just a bit about Dinner Club Pop Up. The initial idea came as a result of a fancy dinner out, says Coumoundouros. She is referring to high end restaurants where the tab grows into the hundreds, the food isn’t that great and the service is pretentious and snobby. Such an evening left Coumoundouros and Baldridge feeling dissatisfied, ultimately leading to the creation of Dinner Club. A conversation began. “Our idea was to bring high end dining to a completely casual and fun atmosphere. Who wants to have to go to a stuffy restaurant to get good food?"
Chef Matt Baldridge weighs in: “I’ve realized it’s possible to do this type of food preparation, while also exercising creativity and sort of stepping outside the mold. It’s liberating. It’s not about us. The people you’re with, the food, the experience -- that’s the point. It’s simply about the food.”
Back to that firsthand experience. As the evening progresses through each course of the sumptuous, beautifully prepared menu created by The Chef, one thing becomes clear. It could be the music that is somehow impeccable yet barely noticeable. It might be the setting, always inviting and aesthetically pleasing. Maybe it’s the gorgeous collection of artwork surrounding the space. It is without a doubt the food, and most assuredly the collaborators who so thoroughly enjoy their patrons delight in the experience. Janna Coumoundouros and Chef Matthew Baldridge’s Dinner Club Pop Up is not to be missed.
Find Dinner Club Pop Up:
Event tickets: http://www.eventbrite.com/o/dinner-club-pop-up-6507116181