New to the Nashville food scene is a unique way to experience some of the hottest local restaurants in a way that puts the focus on human connection – to the chef and to the people around the table. Welcome, with a big dose of Southern hospitality, Tasting Collective to Nashville. Founded in New York almost five years ago, the chef-led private dinner club has arrived in Music City. Founder Nat Gelb explains, “Nashville, for us, was a no-brainer.”
Nat started Tasting Collective with personal interests in mind. He grew up outside of New York City where there were no restaurants at all. His parents expressed their creativity in food, and meals around the table with his family were a formative part of his childhood. “When I moved to NYC, I had this major appreciation and went to all of these restaurants but was missing the human element to the food experience. I was craving something I wasn’t getting.” So, he set out to foster the human connection himself.
At Tasting Collective events, members have the chance to interact with and learn from the chef of the restaurant at which the dinner is taking place. At the beginning of the evening, at 7:30 p.m., the chef leaves the kitchen to speak about his or her background and inspiration for the restaurant, as well as to share stories about the first courses. Nat quickly realized that if you give chefs a platform, then they really have stories to tell — ones they really want to tell.
At the end of the meal over dessert, the chef reads through the question cards that attendees have filled out throughout the evening. This intimate portion of the night even further develops a connection between the chef and diner. It gives guests the chance to ask the questions they wouldn’t be able to on a normal night out, and it’s one of the reasons people can’t get enough of these dinners.
The dinner parties take over the restaurant spaces entirely, planned on evenings that are typically slow or when the restaurants are closed. Members attend in couples, in groups and, most frequently, on their own and sit amongst other food-loving strangers for a meal. The goal is that the longer you are a member, the fewer strangers you encounter. That’s the other relationship-fostering aspect of Tasting Collective. Not only will attendees leave with an insider’s perspective on one of their favorite local restaurants, but they will engage in conversation with a crew of like-minded people over food and drink. Though, that looked a little different at Nashville’s first event at Peninsula this month.
“There was something really unique about Nashville. Tasting Collective creates community by seeing people you eventually get to know. In Nashville, people walked in and said, ‘Hey!’ and already knew each other at the first event,” Nat shares. That vibrancy of Nashville’s dining community was a large factor in Tasting Collective’s expansion. “We look at cities that A) are growing and have a lot of energy coming into them and B) have vibrant and growing food scenes. The types of restaurants that we like to work with are chef-owned, independent restaurants, so Nashville really checked off all of the boxes in that sense,” he adds.
Already, Tasting Collective has seen a hugely positive response here in Nashville. Peninsula and Chef Jake Howell hosted the first event on April 1, and it sold out completely. The six-course menu included mouth-watering dishes, one after another, starting with grilled seeded sourdough and salmon roe. The guests tasted Chef Jake’s classic Peninsula salad, shrimp escabeche, marinated navy beans and squid ink chicken thighs. The meal ended with sweet bites of coffee panna cotta and Q&A. Served family-style, the dinner pulled classics from the menu and let Jake take them to another level (which, frankly, seems near impossible) for his dinner guests.
Similarly, the second event at Hathorne sold out all 70 spots in the dinner party. It turns out, that’s not uncommon for Tasting Collective. When the demand booms that way, Nat explains that more seatings are added. Whether it’s two in one night or three back-to-back-to-back nights (twice, for cities like Philadelphia that are exploding), the goal is that any member who wants to experience the restaurant in this way is able to.
Members join the Tasting Collective for an annual fee, and all dinners are $50 + tax/tip/alcohol. As a member, you can bring up to three guests per dinner, though their meal ticket increases. The multi-course meal and intimate experience in the restaurant and with the chefs in any city are available to any member. And additional perks, like a complimentary cocktail or dessert at participating restaurants, are part of the membership, too.
Nat Gelb set out to foster human connection by breaking bread together at the table. With plans to work with some of the best chefs and restaurants in Nashville, the Tasting Collective is bound to be a culinary experience everyone should have if but once. Warmly, we welcome the Tasting Collective to town!
All images by Nat Gelb. For more information, visit tastingcollective.com. Founding memberships in Nashville are $99 annually for the first 300, and there are just a handful of spots left. Then, the memberships will increase to $165. Happy tasting!
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