Chef Tom Call invites us to a private pop-up dinner party hosted by Donnie and Kyong An Millar in their charming backyard garden.
By Christie Marcy | Photos by Adam Finkle
Chef Tom Call’s career trajectory didn’t look like it was bound for stay-at-home dad. He was trained at a California culinary school, interned in Tuscany and once cooked at Michelin Star restaurants like One Market and Coi in San Francisco. But after the birth of his second child, the former chef de cuisine for the Grand America Hotel and his wife saw an obvious shift in their lifestyle. “When my daughter was born we were faced with the decision of what are we going to do?” Call explains. “Are we going to devote my entire paycheck to a nanny? Or I can just stay home with my kids.” He chose to stay home.
But that didn’t mean he stopped working. Call started hosting pop-up dinners—temporary restaurants housed at private residences, photo studios and picnic areas. This isn’t catering, though Call does that, too. Pop-up dinners are more customized, less mass-produced, and are accompanied by the chef walking diners through the courses, their preparation and his culinary inspirations. “If I want to try a new recipe or meet new people, or do something for fun, I’ll put together a menu and stick it online and invite the public to come and find a cool venue. We’ll sell tickets and people will come and they’ll eat just like they would at a restaurant.”
Kyong An Millar and her husband Donnie have hosted alfresco dinners by Call twice at their Harvard-Yale area home in Salt Lake City, including this lovely summer soiree. On this soft August evening, twilight lit the stage as friends gathered in the charming backyard for a multi-course dinner created and presented by Call. Kyong says hosting a pop-up dinner is a breeze.
“The best thing is that it’s really easy for a hostess—you don’t have to do much. You just get a good group together and then Tom sends you an email with a menu to look over prior to the event. It’s a really great way to entertain if you aren’t into cooking. He brings the linens, the tables, the chairs—everything.” By leaving the heavy lifting to Call, Kyong and Donnie were able to enjoy time mingling with guests in their lush yard and to relish the stress-free evening, start to finish.
The evening’s offerings included a braised spring leek tarte, roasted artichoke salad and brown-butter poached Maine lobster. The chef’s dinners are usually five courses and run an average cost of $75 per guest, including tax and gratuity.
Guests typically pay for their own meal, though Tom says there are exceptions, “Some people pay for their guests, and bless their hearts for treating their friends so well.”
So, the big question is: What’s the difference between a catered dinner and a hosting a pop-up dinner? Well, says Call, “Having someone host a pop-up dinner at their house is special because pop-ups are more chef-driven and there’s more creativity. If someone wants me to host a pop-up at their house, I’m thinking about what food is in season, what’s trending and new things I want to try as a chef.”
Plus, says hostess Kyong, “Frankly, I think it’s a better value than many of the restaurants in town. It’s a much better experience.” As her guests finish their last bites of vanilla crepe cake and linger while visiting under the stars, they are likely to agree. This dinner party—as perfect as the balmy summer evening on which it was held—left the hosts and guests alike reluctant to see it end.
Made By Tom, SLC, 415-309-9331, foodmadebytom.com
Click here for a list of lessons learned from this fabulous outdoor fete.