Why The Dep?
Hosting a pop-up is too expensive
Having to set up all the infrastructure for a pop-up from scratch: venue, kitchen, dining room, promotion, tickets, staffing, etc. is incredibly time/resource intensive. This limits who gets to cook/host.
Attending a pop-up is too expensive
The high setup costs drive up the ticket price; this limits who gets to attend.
Pop up culture lacks diversity
As a result, there ends up being a strong bias toward the same kind of people (e.g. privileged white guys) doing the majority of the cooking/eating and defining the aesthetic/ethos of pop-up culture.
Quality ≠ Luxury
I believe it is possible to have a wonderful and memorable food experience that does not have to be fancy to be great. The Dep is an attempt to keep in the foreground the things I find most meaningful about food (people, traditions, ingredients, shared experiences, stories, etc.), while dispensing with a lot of the things I don’t care about in restaurants (fancy decor, obsequious service, overpriced booze, the emphasis on status, luxury, hipness, etc.). Toronto does not need another elitist hipster clusterfuck (but will continue to fawn over them). Our events are exclusive because they are unique and seat only 20 people but not because you have to belong to a special, invite-only clique or can afford to throw down lots of money.
There are so many incredibly talented home cooks
There are so many great, creative cooks who don’t work in The Industry; from Jedi grandmothers to passionate amateurs to veteran ex-cooks; the cloistered priesthood of professional chefs doesn’t own cooking. The Dep helps level the playing field while giving these people an easy way to showcase their considerable talents, have some fun and make a little extra cash. Personally, I prefer home cooking vs. restaurant cooking, and the astonishing diversity of it is something most people never get to taste; hence The Dep.
Many people in the industry don’t get a creative outlet
Working at a chain restaurant is not typically the articulation of one’s passion for cuisine. The Dep gives many Industry professionals, line cooks, caterers, nutritionists, culinary students, retired chefs a chance to cook the foods that they truly love. It gives new talent a place to hone their chops, self-promote on their own terms, and make bit of extra $ on the side. They get to invite their friends & family and join in the meal. It’s meant to put the joy back in cooking, and remind them why they love doing this in the first place. If it’s fun and interesting and meaningful to the chef, it’s going to be more rewarding for the diners too.
Lowering risk fosters innovation & accessibility
When food becomes a high-stakes game people can’t afford to take risks, so things lean towards derivative trend-chasing. Lowering the barriers to entry lets more voices be heard, lets more people participate and lets them take more creative risks. We can do stuff that you could never get away with in a regular restaurant setting: a dinner of only black & white ingredients with a black & white dress code, a Scottish-Haitian fusion dinner (Voodoo Haggis), traditional Bosnian dinners, a recreation of the last meal served on the Titanic, macrobiotic Japanese home cooking, and countless other ideas that you might not be able build a restaurant concept on, but can shine for one night…
Pop-ups can be safe and legit
The City/Gov’t will never support pop-up culture since it is largely un-regulatable. By creating an equipped, inspected, tax-paying venue, people don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and can come out from the shadows and participate in the legitimate economy in a safe, health-inspected setting. I’m doing The City a solid, encouraging and incubating entry-level entrepreneurialism in a safe, legit, accessible format, though they don’t particularly care. I could be breeding unicorns and producing limitless free energy and it wouldn’t matter to them, it’s only about bylaws, zoning and regulation. Very little out-of-the-box stuff happens in food in Toronto, in part because the box is so rigidly built as to not accommodate anything not designed to fit in it. This begs the questions, who decides on the shape of the box, and who benefits from it being that shape? (see: corporate chains).
Food builds community
Sharing food has an incredible, almost unique ability to forge community; its shared experience leaps across boundaries of age, race, gender, class, culture to create connections between people; an rare opportunity that the traditional restaurant model barely touches on. Communal seating ≠ communal dining, if you just place your own order and never talk to your tablemates. The Dep’s Supper Clubs are uniquely family-style, where cooks, servers and diners all share the meal, passing food to each other. The transparency of the open kitchen, the inclusive sharing of the food experience, the celebration of humble ingredients (enforced by the low price point), the diminishment of the emphasis on decor, luxury or status, is me shaking my tiny fist at the exploitation/celebration of power/inequity that seems to define much of ‘fine dining’.
It’s fun, delicious, convivial, creative and meaningful
Our contemporary culture is fascinated by food unlike ever before; I’d like to find a way to make it a participatory part of a community, rather than just another commodity measured only by how much you’re willing to spend. The Dep is an on-going experiment in a more meaningful way to connect people and food.