Kipper Club Test Kitchen is housed in what one might call an alternative space. There is no parking, so you have to park offsite and shuttle to your dinner, and once you arrive, you're at a Shell gas station. Literally.
Next to the gas station convenience store, there's a sign that says "Tippy's Soul Food," and it's not until you come close that you see small white window sign displaying the Kipper Club fish logo. As the saying goes, however, "Don't judge a book by it's cover," because waiting inside is a refurbished warehouse space designed for a high-end pop-up dining experience.
For last week's pop-up harvest dinner featuring chef Zachary Ladwig, diners were greeted at the door by Kipper Club's general manager, Graham Laborde. It was open seating, and in the far back of the large rectangular room, the chefs and kitchen staff were already hard at work prepping the amuse bouche.
"This is the ultimate chef's table right here," remarked my companion in amazement as he watched the chefs plating the courses less than five feet away from our seats. There was no wall, window or divider, either, which made everything all the more exciting. In fact, you could feel a palpable energy buzzing in the room.
The Kipper Club dinners feature a rotating roster of chefs cooking to different themes, so no two dinners are alike. Ladwig's was the most ambitious to date: Where prior dinners featured approximately six courses over a two-hour period, Ladwig -- whose most recent post was at the Forbes Five-Star rated restaurant at the Inn at Dos Brisas -- had prepared an 11-course vegetable centric fall Harvest dinner. To top that off, beverage director Travis Hinkle had decided to offer nine wine pairings for the night.
A dinner that ambitious is difficult to pull off in a chef's home kitchen, let alone a test kitchen, but the entire event went off without a hitch. Included in the purchase of a Kipper Club dinner ticket is access to not just the guest chef(s) but the chefs and staff of the Treadsack Group.
Ladwig's "help" for the night included Richard Knight (formerly of Feast, and executive chef of the upcoming Hunky Dory), Graham Laborde (general manager of the Kipper Club and executive chef of the upcoming Bernadine's), Benjy Mason (culinary director of the Treadsack Group), Travis Hinkle (beverage director of Treadsack). Treadsack's owner, Chris Cusack, was also on hand as a table runner for the event.
The meal itself was a triumph of execution as far as pop-up's go. So many things can go wrong during a multi-course dinner, and for Ladwig to be able to do the types of composed dishes he did, to that large a group of people (the 6:30 p.m. seating was sold out at 35 seats), with that many number of courses, in a pop-up setting, was extraordinary.
Standouts of the night included a first course of young Washington radishes, buck road persimmons and sorrel, plated beautifully to highlight the vibrant hues of magenta, orange and green; an incredible composition of oyster root, black garlic and ash dusted pine mushroom, Tahitian vanilla, the flavors so delicate yet beguiling; Grand duke kohlrabi with young alliums, black truffle; sunchoke dressed in it's own fond; Golden Beetroot and fresh buttermilk curds; and Steamed Parsley Root cake, quince and maple, wild juniper from the snow farm.
And it wasn't just the food that was excellent -- the wine pairings -- were well chosen to enhance the meal. In particular, Hinkle's pairing of a 2013 San Pietro Gewurztraminer Alto Adige with the sunchoke course was exemplary, about as perfect a pairing as you could get.
"Every young chef should be trying to do a dinner there," tweeted Ladwig the following day. He's already planning his return as a guest chef in the near future.
Kipper Club's next dinner will take place December 5, playing host to guest chefs Aaron Josinsky and Nathaniel Wade from Misery Loves Company in Winooski, VT. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit: Kipper Club Test Kitchen.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.