Local Chefs Pitch in for the Mad Hatter Dinner Series | Dallas Observer
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Mad Hatter Dinner Series Raises Funds for Local School Lunches

Chonnie Richey tells a story about having lunch at her daughter's elementary school for the first time back in 2013. "They asked me if I was bringing lunch with me," Richey recalls. "I said no, I wanted to eat in the cafeteria with the kids. After seeing some of the...
This bone-on short rib with a peanut sauce from Chef Randall Braud was one of our favorite bites at the first Mad Hatter pop-up supporting Independence Gardens.
This bone-on short rib with a peanut sauce from Chef Randall Braud was one of our favorite bites at the first Mad Hatter pop-up supporting Independence Gardens. Chris Wolfgang
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Chonnie Richey tells a story about having lunch at her daughter's elementary school for the first time back in 2013.

"They asked me if I was bringing lunch with me," Richey recalls. "I said no, I wanted to eat in the cafeteria with the kids. After seeing some of the saddest green beans in my life, I understood why they asked in the first place."

The lack of fresh food options for her own kids is what inspired Richey to start Independence Gardens, which works to bring fresh and healthy food options to schools. What started as a school garden at Independence Elementary School in Castle Hills, a community in Lewisville, has grown into a hands-on nutritional program, where kids not only work to grow food to eat, but develop a deeper understanding of where food comes from, how it’s grown and how it nourishes their bodies.

Since its launch in 2013, Independence Gardens has directly affected more than 10,000 children with its fresh food initiative. We first wrote of IG's "Come And Eat It" dinner in 2017, which recruited Dallas area chefs to work alongside high school students to create a six-course menu for a fundraising initiative.

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A black garlic short rib and sticky rice from Chef Randall Braud, served at the Mad Hatter dinner on April 28.
Chris Wolfgang
Thanks to Independence Gardens, in 2019 we had a chance to preview the documentary A Fine Line about the role of women in the restaurant industry and chatted with celebrity chef Cat Cora on how to empower the next generation of female chefs.

The pandemic paused many public events, but Independence Gardens soldiered on. Now it has a new series of events called the Mad Hatter Dinner Series, which aims to take diners "down the rabbit hole" of local chefs creating locally sourced dinners.

The dinner series builds up to "Bikers In Wonderland: Eat. Ride. Give," which is Independence Gardens' keystone fundraising event this fall and combines a motorcycle ride through scenic roads with an Alice in Wonderland-themed party. The chefs from the Mad Hatter series will then get together for a massive food-centric event in Lewisville on October 28.

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Each ticket to a Mad Hatter dinner offers a multi-course meal accompanied by a cocktail paired to each course, like this pomegranate gin cocktail with a dried lime.
Chris Wolfgang
While the food experience is sure to be impressive, the best part is that ticket sales for the Mad Hatter pop-ups, as well as Bikers In Wonderland, all go to support Independence Gardens' in-school nutrition programs across North Texas.

We had the opportunity to attend the first Mad Hatter pop-up recently, with a menu crafted by chef Randall Braud, who recently worked at Barcelona Wine Bar. His love of his Filipino heritage and cuisine runs deep, and he tells us that he's working on a new series of pop-ups with the goal of opening a full-time Filipino restaurant.

In the interim, Braud wowed us with a five-course dinner of Filipino fare that opened with a scallop kinilaw (think of it as a spicy chilled ceviche), then moved through beef short ribs, headcheese, Braud's pork-centric take on Bicol Express, and finished with a delightful mango float for dessert. The dinner also included a paired cocktail with each course.

Richey, who is also of Filipino descent, was thrilled to have Braud open the dinner series.

"His commitment to quality ingredients and sustainable practices aligns perfectly with the mission of Independence Gardens," she says.

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Chef Justin Box will create the menu for the next Mad Hatter Dinner on May 18.
Courtesy of Independence Gardens
The next Mad Hatter dinner will offer a menu curated by Chef Justin Box, a consulting chef who helped launch menus at places such as Sundown at Granada, Cafe Momentum and Lockwood Distilling. His love of music and food are well-known in both culinary and creative circles, and we're sure the six-course menu will be a dazzler. Box's dinner is on Thusday, May 18.

If you can't swing this dinner, the Mad Hatter series will also have dinner dates on June 10, July 22, Aug. 12 and Sept. 8, all leading up to the Bikers In Wonderland event on Oct. 28.

Mad Hatter Dinner Series. Tickets are $125 and seating is limited. Learn more at www.bikersinwonderland.com
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