Fresh off his two-week staging experience at world famous Chicago-based restaurant Alinea, local chef Alex Neaton collaborated with local artist Rick Hidalgo to present an original pop-up chef tasting featuring seven courses and corresponding to the dishes, seven works of art.
Neaton, of the upscale 1906 at Longwood Gardens, wrote the menu before his experience at Alinea and fleshed it out after, knowing he would be inspired with the details while at the Windy City’s three-star Michelin restaurant. Working alongside the Alinea host kitchen staff for two weeks, Neaton learned the management style of the kitchen as well as the unique techniques they employ for food prep and plating dishes.
The tasting was presented in Hockessin at Hidalgo’s recently opened RH Gallery & Studios last Friday, March 2 and Saturday, March 3 to twenty guests per night and sold out in a week.
The pop-up required the conversion of Hidalgo’s personal studio space into a kitchen for the evenings (not an easy feat) and the gallery was turned into a dining room, with two 10-top tables beside the artwork, which the guests took in before taking their seats. To render his art, Hidalgo was given only the colors included in the dish and the main ingredient.
The tasting kicked off with an amuse bouche dedicated to Neaton’s father who had recently passed. The dish was plated uniquely, an elegant swirl of ricotta was centered on an otherwise bare white plate and the meatball sat to the side in a shot glass. Heather Buckman of Wilmington, an attendee on Saturday night said, “It was a touching and intimate moment when the chef came out to explain the loss of his father and that his meatballs were his favorite. You don’t get that kind of intimate dining experience and a connection with the person preparing the food you’re about to eat in a restaurant.”
The courses that followed were a mash up of the best of what Neaton has learned from his mentors along the way: the first, a lemon, tarragon and butter poached lobster tail accompanied by a frisee salad and buddhapalm, sauvignon blanc gold-flecked gel cubes and topped with a tarragon and lemon puree.
The second, Neaton’s wild card and to his surprise the crowd favorite, was an orange velvet carrot ginger soup adorned with a single roasted purple carrot and finished with a yellow carrot puree, smoked walnuts, a punchy red chili oil and garnished with micro carrot tops. A butternut squash caramelli came third, in beautiful thrown clay bowls by local artist Tim Austin. The dish was a nod to Neaton’s first mentor Chef Mike O’Hare, owner of Gennaro’s in Aston, PA, and was topped with a piece of butternut squash ‘paper’ he created with a slow dehydration process.
Fourth was a filet paired with a port cherry cream sauce, celery root puree, a bruleed leek, shallots and a black garlic and cherry puree. A pan seared duck breast came fifth atop a truffle scented soubise sauce, local trumpet mushrooms, a roasted chipollini onion, port wine foam and a crisp parsnip.
A single spoon of pineapple and aloe was served as a palette cleanser, and then came dessert: a goat cheese cheesecake with an ‘everything bagel’ crust paired with a gooseberry jam. And the finale: Neaton’s take on a KitKat bar — a triple stacked bar of chocolate mousse, chocolate ganashe and a chocolate feuilletine blend, adorned with a white chocolate disk and paired with orange butter sauce.
The guests enjoyed seeing Hidalgo’s interpretation of each dish as the courses were served. Seven 7×7 squares hung opposite the guests and showcased Hidalgo’s artistic interpretation of each dish. Each piece was mixed media with resin and acrylic on wood panel. Eric Starrett of Chadds Ford, also a Saturday attendee said, “Sitting at a dining table in the middle of an art gallery, surrounded by white walls, bright light and art and being served incredibly creative food while enjoying an artist’s interpretation of a culinary dish was so engaging and thought provoking. And the food blew me away.”
A celebration of friendship and how far they’ve come in their respective crafts
Neaton and Hidalgo, both self-taught, created the event as a celebration of their decade long friendship and to honor how far they’ve have come in their respective crafts. Neaton, having come from a troubled past, started out as a dishwasher more than a decade ago and worked his way up, attributing his love of cooking with getting his life back on track. Hidalgo opened RH Gallery in the summer of 2017, and his work has been featured at The Delaware Contemporary, Chris White Gallery, and The Moving Parts Collective at The Mill Space among others. RH Gallery & Studios, a stone’s throw away from the upscale New American restaurant and Hockessin gem The House of William and Merry, hosts monthly art exhibits featuring local artists.
Neaton was incredibly grateful to his Longwood family for their support of the event. Chefs William Brown and Matthew Anderson, respectively, both of Longwood, were especially supportive, helping in the kitchen and attending the event. Also, among the guests were Kenneth Warner of Longwood, Brian Kimble of Winterthur, and Mexican eatery El Diablo co- owner Roger Andrews.
Sign up for future pop-up art-infused dinners
Future dinners will take a different direction artistically each time, to remain fresh, and others artists may collaborate with artisans who make the table, plates, bowls, glasses etc. Organizers are in discussions with The Creamery about a possible pop-up dinner this summer.
Guests will enjoy an intimate, creative seven-course fine dining experience in which they’ll connect personally with the chef preparing their food and the chance to enjoy local art in many different interactive ways as well as the opportunity to purchase any tableware/artwork created for the event. Tickets are $100 per person. For more information, or to join the list for tickets to the next pop-up, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photography by David Heitur of Wilmington