AP NEWS

Dig & Serve events combine food, art, unique venues

April 5, 2017

The best parties are the ones other people throw. The key is getting invited to such parties — either you must cultivate an A-list circle of friends who like entertaining, or at least be on the right mailing list. In Santa Fe, you just have to sign up for the new speakeasy/underground-dinner-party circuit called Dig & Serve.

Owner Brandon Gregoire describes Dig & Serve as an “experiential pop-up dinner series or supper club” that focuses on producing events featuring local seasonal food from farmers and ranchers with whom they have personal relationships.

None of the prime movers of Dig & Serve is a culinary professional, necessarily. Gregoire has a business background in marketing and used to produce fashion shows and large-scale events in Houston. Gregoire and his girlfriend/co-founder Jennifer Kolker started the whole Dig & Serve endeavor in Houston in 2014 as a side project, growing food in the garden and throwing dinner parties — parties so elaborate they decided they should start charging for them. It began as an underground club, only for people in the know.

“We were working for a fashion company and doing dinner for our clients, showing the collection, and they would shop and eat and drink,” Gregoire says.

The couple moved to Albuquerque in 2015 and threw their first event there in February 2016 after turning pro, registering an LLC, getting a license and insurance, and finding a commercial kitchen out of which to prep their food.

Depending on the event, Gregoire himself may do most of the cooking, or they might bring in chefs or culinary professionals who specialize in, say, fine pastry or sushi or whatever else.

“Everything is very chef-centric, but we wanted to focus on the food,” Gregoire says, “make the food stand out. We’ll produce an event around all the abundance of great local food, and the chef doesn’t matter if the food’s amazing. People remember the experience, not necessarily the chef. That’s the angle. … We try to get people who get local food and believe in local food to come together, prep and execute.”

A Dig & Serve event is born when Gregoire and Kolker get together with their friends over a beer or a coffee, brainstorm and figure out what kind of event they’re throwing. Then they find out what kind of produce they can get in season from local farms, and hash out the menu and the whole production. They alternate events monthly between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

“It’s different from a normal pop-up because we’re bringing in different experiential components — music, art, we had a slam poet before — it’s a curated experience for diners to eat together at a common table to experience the best food we can find.”

The food itself is usually fine-dining-style, farm-to-table cuisine done as a series of small plates across multiple courses. A recent event menu included summer melon with basil and cracked pepper, then a watermelon gazpacho, then fig and dove breast wrapped in butter leaf lettuce with pomegranate glaze, a roasted eggplant baguette crostini, grilled summer vegetables with roasted poblano cream sauce, and a main course of local hanger steak with polenta, oyster mushrooms and shishito peppers. For dessert, they served heirloom tomato olive oil ice cream.

“We do a lot of veggies,” says Gregoire. “We source stuff locally, and a lot of times people will eat stuff they’ve never eaten before, okra, interesting beans and snap peas, things they’re not familiar with. We like to introduce people to vegetables because we love them so much ourselves.”

Dig & Serve produces two types of events: ticketed and private. Ticketed events (which are either dinner or brunch) range from roughly $75 to $150 and are only available to those who sign up for their mailing list via email or social media. When Dig & Serve proposes an event, it emails its list the date only, leaving the location a secret. Everybody buys their tickets (including dietary restrictions, if any) and then 24 hours beforehand, Gregoire sends everyone an email telling them where to go. The next Santa Fe event will be in June, but events tend to sell out quickly once announced.

“It creates a little mystique. What we really like is that people buying a seat and people trying it for the first time have no prejudgment. We keep people guessing — it’s kind of exciting for them to know they’re going to get an email. It’s kind of a cool date night for people, or bring a group: ‘Schedule this day or time but I don’t know where we’re going.’ ”

Those events are capped at roughly 45 to 50 people and involve more than dinner. An event at Meow Wolf included an eight-course dinner at a long table in the neon forest (Gregoire is partial to the one-long-banquet-table setup) and included a private viewing of the Meow Wolf exhibit and little laser-cut, wooden steampunk treasure maps that diners had to solve to find various stations featuring food by Silver Leaf Farms, Cloud Cliff Bakery, Cheesemongers of Santa Fe and the Liquid Muse, while musicians from Cloacas played throughout the house.

“We like to do events at places people don’t typically eat,” Gregoire says. “Meow Wolf, galleries, farms, castles; we’ve done coffee shops, breweries. We try to find places that have a great environment that we can transform into an awesome event. We’re trying to create an experiential memory.”

They also do private events, including weddings, and have a full-service trailer that includes ovens, stoves, cups, flatware — the works. But depending on the needs of the client, they’ll sort out the other details of the event, including music, theme and other shenanigans.

“I hate calling us a catering company — we’re more an event production company that likes local food,” Gregoire says.

And Dig & Serve’s farm-to-table ethos is about to get a little more street cred, or rather, field cred. In conjunction with a nonprofit cafe in Albuquerque called Food Karma (where there are no prices and you pay for your food on a sliding scale), Gregoire and Kolker will be growing produce on a small scale for their events on a plot of land in the South Valley in Albuquerque. They will, of course, be doing much of the gardening themselves to start.

“This year, it’s kind of just a trial,” Gregoire says. “In the beginning, it’s just sweat equity, but we’re eventually going to hire a full-time farmer. … The whole premise behind the name [Dig & Serve] was that we’re doing it in our garden, we’re digging and then serving. Now we’re doing that again.”

On the web

u For more information on Dig & Serve or to sign up for its mailing list, visit www.digandserve.com, www.facebook.com/digandserve or on Instagram, @digandserve.