Have you ever heard of an underground dinner? Sometimes called secret supper clubs, they are invitation-only dinners hosted by chefs in unexpected venues. Miss Chef first heard of these being done collaboratively by rising young chefs in Charleston and Raleigh, though they are popping up all over the country.
Now Miss Chef is going to do her own.
She is starting slowly, with only about 8 guests so far. They are a combination of friends, colleagues and guests who have had her food at the restaurant. And, of course, me. The paying guests know only that the menu will be designed to highlight seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients. They are trusting that whatever Miss Chef comes up with, it will be worth the price.
The dinner is not until Sunday night, but since Miss Chef has been working on this for a month or more, I thought I would invite you along to visit a place that I’ve always found fascinating—Restaurant Depot. Even the most locally-sourced menu is going to need a little help from a restaurant supply store. Nobody around here farms storage containers or bus tubs, as far as I know.
Only restaurant professionals can shop here. You have to have a membership—which Miss Chef got when she was working for Chef Adam—or, if you happen to be a Chef Instructor at a local school, you can just show your ID. Camera-wielding sidekicks do not need a pass, so while Miss Chef was getting her temporary card, I captured some 50 pound sacks of onions and potatoes to share with you.
Just like the retail shopping clubs (Sam’s Club, Costco, etc.), everything here is sold in large quantities. I don’t know if the quantities are larger, or it’s just because it’s food, but I always find a trip here fascinating. About a third of the store is a giant cooler (Miss Chef didn’t need anything in this section, but she was kind enough to bear with me while I wandered through taking pictures). Push aside the thick plastic flaps hanging in the doorway, and you enter what is essentially a two-story refrigerated warehouse:
Brrrrr. Coats are available for the faint of heart.
First, there’s the produce. Iceberg salad, anyone? Carrots are also sold in 50-pound bundles, wrapped in orange plastic.
Next is the meats section. Or, to be honest, animal parts.
Those signs are printed on full 8 1/2” x 11” sheets, to give you some idea of scale. There are also stacks of hotdogs, three-foot long bolognas and all kinds of giant dried sausages.
A little further on, you enter the dairy section. Oh, if only we had the storage space for this much cheese!
Perhaps my favorite picture is of the far wall—eggs by the gross! These boxes were stacked all the way up to the ceiling. Just like the poor birds that laid them, no doubt.
There’s much more than food here, though. Have you ever stopped to wonder where your favorite restaurants get all the bits and bobs you probably don’t think about?
For instance, the bowls and trays at the school cafeteria or your favorite salad bar? You too can carry your plate from kitchen to table on your own plastic tray!
Or the various condiment containers you might find at your local Italian place? Grated parmesan and red pepper flakes, for everyone!
I had no idea there was such a market for pizza peels (that’s what they call these long wooden paddles, used to manipulate food in a wood-burning oven).
If Miss Chef were ever to set up a gift registry for herself, one of these would probably be on it.
Vitamix blenders start around $300, but nothing comes near to their effectiveness. They’re probably ridiculously loud, too, so maybe it’s just as well we can’t afford one.
We can afford tongs, though not this many!
I’ve saved the most important picture for last…back in the produce area, I made a world-shaking discovery. I can now reveal, for all to see, the true name of God!
Also, apparently he is a purveyor of cabbage. And, according to the lower right, Jesus’ real name was Jacob.
I’ll leave you to ponder the theological implications of my finding, but I might recommend you consider making sauerkraut and coleslaw a more important part of your diet.
I plan to take enough pictures Sunday night to write Part 2 of this adventure, the part that will make you hungry.