Quickly turning around after the closing of the revised version of Michelin-starred Bonsoirée, Chef Shin Thompson and partner/general manager Matt Sussman have announced a new concept for the space at 2728 W. Armitage and it could hardly seem more different from the delicately Asian-influenced food there previously. It's going to be called Table, Donkey and Stick, after a Brothers Grimm tale about an innkeeper and a donkey, and it will be inspired by the food, and even moreso the hospitality, of the inns that dot the Alps from southern France into Switzerland and Italy. But beyond the concept, they've got a unique plan for finding the right chef to head the place that should attract lots of attention: each final candidate for the job will be given a night to run the restaurant as a pop-up featuring their food. The dinners will be open to the public and we'll be filming them for Grub Street. Watch as they explain the pop-up-job-interview concept in the video below.
So why the Alpine inn concept? Sussman says the hospitality of these inns, after a long day of hiking or skiing, is legendary, and they cover a wide swath of the culinary traditions of southern Europe. "They have great pork, especially in northern Italy. They have cattle, fed on the Alpine meadows, so they have great cheeses. They have a tradition of loving wine. It's simple, honest food." Thompson doesn't want to dictate the menu to the candidates for the job, he says, but it's clear that "it will include sausage, it will include charcuterie. It will involve whole animal butchery. They have beautiful breads there. All of these are things the candidate has to be comfortable with and excited about showing us."
And what inspired this unique way of picking a chef? "Usually the way it works is that a candidate comes in with four or five dishes for us to taste," Sussman explains. "We thought, since we already have the restaurant, it would be more interesting to let the public try it and see what they think of the food, too." So they plan to let the candidates do pop-ups on Mondays or Wednesdays in November, with Thompson assisting the chef in the kitchen. "Since the dinners are basically experiments, we'll keep the price low and just charge our cost," Sussman says. 50% of the proceeds will go to a charity of the chef candidate's choice.
They'll be handing out comment cards at the dinners "though we expect any sensible candidate will pack the house with his friends," Sussman laughs and will pay attention to public response to the food when the pop-ups are shown in video form here on Grub Street. "Obviously we reserve the right to pick the candidate who we think is the best for our business, but we'll pay attention to how the public reacts," Thompson says. "If one person's food seemed the best to us, but the diners didn't seem to like it as much, we'll take that into consideration." They plan to open in December.
Hear Thompson and Sussman talk about the concept and the challenge, and find out how to be considered for participation if you're a chef, in this two-minute announcement video: