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Chefs Pop Up at
Secret Dinners

Chickenwire creates a venue for
celebrated chefs to unite and
spread their creative wings.

Story by Jackie Boeheim
Photos courtesy of Chickenwire

 BELOW: a unique table setting inside garden supply company.

BELOW: a unique table setting inside garden supply company.

Being a chef is one of the most creative jobs in the world.
With this title, you are able to create remarkable cuisine with little restrictions. The plate is your palette, sauce dances like paint, produce enriches the color, and herbs give a third dimension of heavenly aroma.

Only in this group of culinary excellence can one turn an exotic plant or lesser known ingredient into edible art. Some of the country’s most acclaimed chefs are cooking, baking, and fashioning dishes at our local restaurants. That’s right, a plethora of talented artists are surrounding us here in the Triangle: Lionel Vatinet of La Farm Bakery finds his niche through baking; Sean Fowler of Mandolin has a passion for turning local ingredients into five-star dishes; and John Childers of Herons makes fine dining an approachable experience.

Regan Stachler, founder of the recently closed Little Hen in Apex was looking for a space where he and his well-known chef pals could relax, enjoy one another’s company, and prepare unbinding dishes.

In 2013, Stachler created Chickenwire, a platform for chefs to spread their creative wings. “Chefs can bond and spend time together,” Stachler says. “They can inspire each other and cook food that they don’t necessarily have the opportunity to showcase on a daily basis.”

 members gather in chef lionel vatinet’s home kitchen.

members gather in chef lionel vatinet’s home kitchen.

The idea was to build chef camaraderie and inspiration without the pressure inherent to serving in their upscale restaurants. In some ways, this “club” would act as an underground cooking league for top-notch chefs.

Unless you are a major food connoisseur who chases the local grub biz, you’ve likely never heard of Chikenwire. Roughly five times a year, Chickenwire hosts a themed pop-up dinner where local chefs are invited to create and serve to the community. Yes! These dinners are served to the community. However, you have to act fast as tickets are limited and sell out quickly.

Stachler devises the dinner theme and reaches out to chefs in the community who will execute it. For example, in 2015, the theme was “Breaking Bread,” with Lionel Vatinet from La Farm Bakery, Daniel Benjamin of LucetteGrace, and Bill Hartley from The Carolina Inn among the headliners.

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“Chefs have full control over what they serve. Themes are allowed loose interpretations. And together, we bounce ideas back and forth,” Stachler explains.

Once a theme is set, Stachler, his wife, Dawn, and the service team begin planning the secret events. A venue is handpicked, décor to match the theme is conceptualized, and the right type of service is scouted.

Hopeful event-goers have to join the group mailing list or follow their Facebook page to discover when the pop-up dinners are happening. Once an announcement is made, tickets fly out the door. And here’s the kicker: The guests grabbing tickets don’t know the menu or the location of the pop-up. It’s all kept a secret until 36 hours prior to the event. This keeps the pop-up exciting and wildly anticipated.

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In the past, the “Green With Envy” event was held at Garden Supply Company in Cary and featured chefs from Raleigh’s Midtown Grille, Kimbap Café, and more. Diners enjoyed roasted quail, spicy key lime rémoulade, and local coffee from Muddy Dog Roasting.

The Breaking Bread theme took an intimate spin when the event was held at Chef Lional Vatinet’s home. It turns out that Vatinet has a wood-fire oven and a beautiful space to host his many chef pals and eager guests. Chef Clark from The Carolina Inn prepared black drumfish from the North Carolina coast, and the event was a passionately talked-about feast. Guests did not leave hungry, as there were many dishes prepared by the nine chefs in attendance.

Chickenwire works exclusively with Crude Bitter for cocktails. Crude produces small-batch bitters and sodas. They are holders of two Good Food Awards and one food award from Southern Living magazine. In addition to providing innovative cocktails, Chickenwire also has beer brewers in-house.

Portions of the ticket purchases are donated to charity. In the past, Chickenwire has donated to Slow Money NC, an organization that supports local farmers and food enterprises. They’ve also given graciously to Triangle Family Services, whose mission is to build a stronger community through family. And the Western Wake County Farmers Market has also received donations from the organization.

If you enjoy the element of surprise, outstanding food, and giving back to our community, be on the lookout for future events. In fact, Stachler whetted our appetites with the  announcement, “We are gearing up to present one pop-up dinner later this year; that’s all that is currently slated, but our schedule is fluid.”

So go ahead, join that mailing list and get in on these elite events where you can meet local chefs face-to-face. Email a request to be added to the mailing list: chickenwirenc@gmail.com and find them on Facebook: ChickenWire-NC.