Photography by Anais & Dax
With our dining options becoming more and more eclectic, the ante has been upped in the hunt for a new experience. One that tops the others. One with complimentary bragging rights served at the end of your meal. But where do we draw the line in how protective we are of our dining secrets?
There was a feeling of formality, even in the midst of scraps of metal and power tools; the diners ate accordingly. The no-nonsense, hands-on folk grabbed their corn and dug in, while others—more reserved, perhaps—began the process of slicing the blistered kernels onto their plates. The communal table concept in dining is not a new one, but somehow, with this being the only table in the room, there was a sense of unity that I had never before felt while eating out. The unity, this sense of a shared experience, is not fluff and poetry— we were made to interact. Dining by myself (and forgetting that it was BYOB) I made friends quickly. But even the simplest of nudges from our hosts brought the table closer. A coffee tin filled with spoons for our meal was passed down the line for us each to take. Scoops of their Caesar salad —grilled romaine, kale, fried capers and Comte cheese with an anchovy aioli—were reached for, often, over your neighbor’s plate. Or else the servings were doled out, giving a helping hand to those around you.
The built-in messiness that comes with eating a burger is certainly not a graceful eating experience, but there we were, chomping down and smiling through each bite. My neighbor asked for more of the smashed baby potatoes. You can do that there. The salted caramel chocolate tart was presented to us uncut. How protective should we be of some dining experiences? In this case, very.
This space has no room for expansion (not that many restaurants do). One can look straight into the kitchen, up two steps from the head of the table, and there is just enough space between each seat. This dinner is not a nightly occurrence—spreading the word too far would simply max them out. These are not professionals, but a group of talented, creative home cooks who know just how far they can take these dinners before the working end of the deal trumps the play. These dinners are essentially invite-only, private dinner parties, which are funded by their guests’ donations, and they are offered with love and incredible care.
Why push the limits? A slow, and steady growth would do them better than an explosion of demand—and there is nothing pretentious, or hip, about that.
Ital Zach and Hyejin Cho met in architecture grad school in Los Angeles around ten years ago. Although they had predominantly collaborated on architecture projects, they began cooking for friends on the weekends. As word of these elaborate meals spread quickly through an extended circle of friends, the dinners soon outgrew their homes. Ital and Adee met in 2010—their baby is now 8 months old. The full-time nature of parenting hasn’t slowed them down—efficiency, however, is more pressing than ever.
Adee was the driving voice in moving their dinners into a new space. And seemingly as easy as that, their friend’s workshop opened up and away they went, constructing their kitchen into the back room of the shop.
And so, Foodshop, as it is called, was born. “We started out with a tiny sink, an old stove and barely any counter space. It seems like every month we do some sort of an upgrade. Professional stove, dishwashing sink, counters, shelves, Salvation Army dinnerware, the more eclectic, the better,” Hyejin explains. “We love the ‘shop’ part of Foodshop. We’re both hands-on designers from our architecture background, so designing and experimenting is definitely our favorite aspect. Our menus are mostly influenced by seasonal and locally available materials, as well as travels, nostalgia, and random thoughts."
“Foodshop is not only about the food; it’s about the people and ambiance they create. We’ve found that the more we make our guests share and interact with the food, the more social the night becomes.”
With Ital covering the savory dishes and Hyejin covering the sweets, they bring in around four or five more helpers to round out the crew. These chefs are untrained in any classical sense, but you would never know it.
Similar private dinners have popped up all over our city. This is not written with the intention of having the masses hunt down this dinner in particular, but to listen in on the happenings in your own neighborhood. There are more of these gatherings with the similar intentions, and what a delight it would be to discover something new in your community—and potentially bring it slightly closer to view.
Let the story of Foodshop serve as an inspiration to bring the weekly dinner party to the next level. Because this one took place in my neighborhood, Venice, I’ve now passed by at least a few of my fellow diners from that night. And while this might just mean that I have few more reasons not to look like a train wreck when I hit Abbot Kinney Boulevard, it also means that I’ve been given the opportunity to open my eyes to people I might have never interacted with otherwise, in a space that has been transformed for just that—and for food, for unpretentious lovingly executed food.
Grilled Corn with Warm Spices and Cotija Cheese