With school back in session, many kids will tell exciting stories about "what they did this summer." And while Underground dinner chef David (DAT) Temple might not look like a third grader with his fuzzy beard, he's as giddy as one and can't wait to tell everyone about his summer culinary road trip.
"We went to Houston, New Orleans, then Crested Butte in Colorado," Temple told me from his car on Wednesday. "Next was San Francisco, then wine country, and the fartherst point north was Oregon. Now we're leaving Sacramento. I think we put about 5,000 miles on the car so far."
During that time he hosted seven different underground dinners, including two in San Francisco and one in Portland. He also toured a few kitchens and dined in some spectacular spots, like Redd and The French Laundry in Yountville. Right now, Thursday afternoon, he and his traveling comrade and local barkeep, Moses Guirdy, are on a sprint home somewhere between Dallas and Albuquerque.
The trip has had a major influence on his approach to food and cooking.
"There are just such a broad spectrum of ways chefs do things in other cities," said Temple. "A lot of stuff is similar in terms of French basics. But, they pair a lot of vegetarian dishes in ways the just shock me; a cool, simplistic approach to great produce."
Temple has already lined up two dinners based on the trip -- "The Story of Adventure Through a Six Course Dinner." Unfortunately, the Friday dinner already sold out, but there are seats still available for the Tuesday dinner on September 11 (see details at end of article). But like any long road trip, it wasn't all culinary delights.
"We ran out of gas once in California. We were about half a mile from a gas station and had to walk," said Temple. "And at one of my dinners in San Francisco, we had 28 reservations and 18 no-shows. That kind of sucked, but it's all good. We worked it out and made everything happen."
Working independently can have its pitfalls. While it's great to be able to line-up dinners across the country, that freedom comes with risks.
"At one dinner, the credit card payments didn't clear for like four days," said Temple. "So, we rolled into Vegas with, seriously, fifty cents. So, it's one o'clock in the morning and I'm in Vegas and have fifty cents to my name. We had traveled all day through Colorado and Utah. All night was I calling the bank to see if it cleared."
Eventually the money found its way to Temple's account, and then, for good measure, he won some extra cash at the blackjack tables the next night.
All this (and surely more) gets wrapped into a six-course meal in two upcoming underground dinners. The road-trip menu goes like this:
Houston: jumbo lump crab taco, candied jalapeño, guac and smoke salsa. New Orleans: crawfish-corn bisque, smoked trinity, fried okra, chive oil. Crested Butte: Sous vide lamb, goat cheese, mint arugula salad. Las Vegas: compressed peach, fig-shallot chutney, seared foie gras. San Francisco: roasted sole, clams, garlic-chive butter, and heirloom broth. Portland: wild berry crisp, nectarines and honey lavender ice cream with mint.
The dinner on Tuesday is $65 plus gratuity and if you're not on his email list already, email Temple at DAT@chefdat.com, or check out his website. He has a "call me maybe" tag if you want to chat. Maybe.
The location of the dinner will be revealed via email the morning prior.