The mystery, the intrigue, the secrecy, the excitement of checking your inbox... no, we're not talking about finally getting your Ovaltine decoder ring in the mail. We're talking, of course, about supper clubs, and we don't think we're alone in professing our love for this curious way of dining. Enter the newest player, PushStart Kitchen: one of the most intimate variations on the supper club theme in perhaps one of the coolest spaces. Inside the Goat Farm, there is one small room with one dining room table set for ten, looking out on a rugged back patio just yards away from the train tracks. There's also Chef Zach scurrying about to make sure everything is perfect, or as close to perfect as one can get when your workspace is about the size of an office desk. In between courses, we snapped some photos and chatted with Zach on his labor of love:
SCOUT: Why did you start PushStart Kitchen, and what inspired you to do so?
ZACH: I started PushStart to start breaking away from working in OTHER people's restaurants. It was a way for me to start getting my name out as a local chef while having the opportunity to actually connect with my diners. Now i get to see people's faces instead of tickets with seat and table numbers. The name comes from essentially getting a push start with our own careers in ATL, like popping the clutch on your Grandma's old Caprice.
SCOUT: Why not cook for people in a restaurant?
ZACH: I do cook for people in a restaurant during the week but this way is so much more gratifying. I get the chance to talk about the roots of a dish or a special method of preparation. I get to see people's faces as they try the food and I get to hear the comments they make to each other as they enjoy the experience. Those fifteen seconds, when the table gets quiet as they taste for the first time, are the best and worst fifteen seconds of my day!
SCOUT: Why do you suppose people in Atlanta are going nuts for supper clubs lately?
ZACH: They're something fairly new and definitely different here in the South. Essentially this is where restaurants came from in the first place so it's almost like people get to say "oh yeah I went there when..." The social interaction is really cool and unique too. We end up with some gregarious characters!
SCOUT: Tell us about the food you serve at the suppers.
ZACH: During my time living and traveling throughout Central and South America, I began to see a natural overlap in the ingredients between the American South and the Latin kitchen. In my trying to find foods that we're comforting to me, I started to create a sort of mash up between the two. So, for example in an application where you might find cornbread, I'll serve a tamale. The techniques are different but the flavors all naturally match up. It's truly New American food. I try to avoid using terms like "fusion" because they have a negative connotation to describe weird things like "wasabi mashed potatoes" or Southwestern eggrolls.
SCOUT: Are the suppers always held at the Goat Farm? Why did you choose that venue?
ZACH: We're starting to outside dinners and I love going to people's homes to cook dinners like these. We chose Goat Farm to act as our home base for two reasons: first off they're very open and supportive about any DIY programs in the area, which we love. They're also very affordable. On top of both of those reasons, the aesthetic of the place unbeatable. I mean, how often can you say you had a dinner in an old Cotton Gin from the late 1800's? If you say "often" then you're WAY cooler than I am.
SCOUT: What's it like hosting a dinner party for ten strangers?
ZACH: It's a little like a middle school dance at first in that everyone kind of mills around and doesn't talk and then they get some wine and food in them and it really gets going. I love seeing people connect over food. It's honestly the reason I got into this business in the first place. By the end of the evening, everyone is hugging and trading business cards.
SCOUT: What have been some of your biggest menu item hits so far?
ZACH: Slow cooked pork shoulder with white BBQ sauce, crispy tamale, candied lemon, corn nuts and cilantro pistou. That one was sooo good. We served a chilled corn soup with a ham hock and collard empanada, queso fresco, hearts of palm and green tomato marmalade that was super popular. There have been several requests for recipes at all of the dinner, actually.
SCOUT: Are there any other people, organizations, chefs, restaurants, or businesses in town that you think are doing really creative, innovative work?
ZACH: I think that the DIY food scene in Atlanta is really starting to blossom with the popularity of the food trucks and Atlanta Underground Market. Everyone is a little too eager to compare ATL to NYC or SF which is just silly. This is still a small "town" and these developments are so nice to see. I've payed attention to Ryan and Jen Hidinger with the supper club Staplehouse. Unfortunately, I've not had the opportunity to meet them but everyone always talks about what a nice project they have going on. Atlanta is becoming such a good food city. I would like to see some more adventurous and progressive dining to take root here. While I'm not too drawn to the overly scientific side of the contemporary kitchen, I love the experimental mindset and the artful presentations.
SCOUT: How about a couple favorite spots in Atlanta to eat, drink, and/or be merry?
ZACH: WHOA...so many. OK. Top three where I can eat, drink and be merry. Ria's Bluebird is my Sunday highlight and in my little opinion, the best breakfast on the planet. I love Leon's in Decatur. Good food, good bar, and I feel like the servers are very endearing. No pretense. Last one...I like Holy Taco. Again, super good food, good patio, and I can eat tongue and drink Schlitz in a can. Sweet.
SCOUT: Your favorite "curious find" in Atlanta?
ZACH: Curious finds. Goat Farm for sure. I'm in love with the Buford International Market and the Dekalb Farmer's Market. The Clothing Warehouse to buy a western shirt. Felini's for a slice of veggie pie. The food court in Super H Korean market. The Porter Beer Bar. The Grand Slam at Atlanta's own Arden's Garden. Sugar Coated Radical and Rattletrap Coffee for weekend treats. I had been out of the country for around five years so I'm in the process of getting reacquainted with ATL. I feel like a bit of a newbie even though I'm from here.
SCOUT: Do you have any hopes/dreams for the future of PushStart Kitchen? Maybe adding a couple chairs to that 10-person table, or taking it to a restaurant?
ZACH: I want this to evolve in to an "above ground" restaurant with the same sort of communal dining feel. Open kitchen, one long table, me cooking and being able to serve, rotating menu, comfortable yet unique atmosphere. Just need to find some folks to sign some checks!!!
SCOUT: Finally, tell our readers where they can learn more about you guys (and sign up!):
ZACH: You can see photos and menus at both facebook.com/pushstartkitchen and Pushstartkitchen.blogspot.com. To sign up for our mailing list, please fill in the subscribe box on the blog. We are shooting for two dinner services a week: one on Friday and one on Saturday. We are also totally in to catering and getting out and about in town so if someone has an idea for a cool dinner party, email us. We'll set it up!