Alamo City Provisions, a traveling popup dinner series, brings some of San Antonio’s finest chefs out of restaurants and into hidden gems across town. Each event takes place in a venue known for something other than food – a library, a mansion, an art gallery. The chefs collaborate to create meals inspired by places. Live music and design choices inspired by place affect the feel of each dinner. Excellent food and drink are at the center of Alamo City Provisions, but the events are mainly about strengthening connections to people and places in the San Antonio community.
The October dinner took place at Landa Gardens Library where green grounds and strings of lights between trees provided a picturesque setting. Guests were serenaded by South Texas Jazz as they casually made their way to and fro from seven food and drink stations. If diners chose to sit for a while at one of the unassigned tables, they were met with table decorations that referenced the literary location.
Chefs John Russ of Lüke and Elise Broz of Biga on the Banks and Inspired Occasions initiated Alamo City Provisions. Russ says that there can be a big difference between going to dinner at a restaurant and having a unique night out. Russ and Broz see the dinner series as a way to “create unique experiences that encompass all aspects of dining.” By designing connections among food, drink, location, music, and decor, they create the kind of night out that “you don’t really find everywhere.”
For Landa Gardens Library, each chef chose a book and created a dish inspired by it. Michael Sohocki from Restaurant Gwendolyn and Kimura chose "The Fellowship of the Ring" and invited diners to experience eating like a hobbit. Sohocki explained that boiling was a common cooking technique in Middle Earth, the fictional land created by J.R.R. Tolkien. Sohocki’s boiled ham dish was tender and plentiful enough to feed the crowd. It was accompanied by warm lembas, which you might recognize as Elvin traveling bread.
The Restaurant Mixtli crew, led by Chefs Diego Galicia and Rico Torres, made mussels with Spanish white wine and Ignacio’s cured chorizo to give a sense of food experienced by the ex-patriots in "The Sun Also Rises." Russ made deliciously creamy Yukon potatoes with Louisiana crab and Texas corn inspired by "The Yellow King," a book that was recently popularized by HBO’s "True Detective" series.
The most dramatic book-to-dish connection came from Chef Pieter Sypesteyn of Cookhouse and Where Y’at Food Truck. Jacob and Esau’s story from The Bible inspired him to make goat gumbo. He explained that when Esau returns home famished from hunting, he gives his birthright to Jacob in exchange for a bowl of soup. “That must have been some damn good soup," Sypesteyn said.
It was good soup. The tender goat and lentils stood out for their simplicity when paired with the gumbo’s rich and spicy roux.
Russ said that chefs’ personalities can be seen in their food. Connecting dishes to books made their personalities come out even more. As a chef, it gave him an opportunity “to see how (his fellow chefs) think—taking themes in different directions.”
Chefs from different restaurants get a rare chance to work together at Alamo City Provisions. Luis Morales of Humble House Foods participates in Alamo City Provisions because it’s fun for him to “cook with (my) friends.” Chefs work hard. They have long hours.
“Cooks and chefs don’t get to sit down and cook together (or) have a meal together a lot,” Morales said.
Broz said that they are proud of what they do, and even as they are cooking for diners, they are cooking for each other. Being around peers makes them want to put their best foot forward.
Russ contrasted the cohesiveness of San Antonio’s culinary professionals with other cities, “where it’s cutthroat,” he said. By creating opportunities to work and play together, the collaborative series feeds the already friendly and welcoming character of the food community. Russ and Broz envision a rotating chef lineup in future seasons, which would invite more area chefs into the collaborative fold.
As chefs create closer connections with each other, diners get the chance to talk with the people who feed them. As I traveled from station to station at Landa Gardens, I had fun putting faces to chef names. The relaxed pace of the event allowed chefs and guests to talk across the table. I overheard conversations about food, but chefs and diners also talked about books, San Antonio happenings, football, and all kinds of everyday things. The focus was on the company as much as the food.
As I was eavesdropping, I couldn’t help but appreciate the way events like Alamo City Provisions narrow gaps between chefs and diners. We get to see how much they know and learn what they think about as they mix punch or smoke salmon. They get to hear our curiosities and observe what we appreciate in a night out.
A harvest-themed dinner invites guests to Lambermont this Sunday, Nov.16. The San Antonio castle is modeled after Belgium-style castles of the Victorian era. The location’s decadence inspires the menu. Diners will experience a family style meal that features ingredients sourced from local farmers markets. Russ said they are featuring area farmers and ranchers to show their integral place in the food community, adding farmers and ranchers are “equally as passionate as chefs about food” and their products are “really, really good.”
Texas farms featured on Sunday’s menu include Kitchen Pride, Peeler Farms, and Fall Creek Farms. Morales is especially passionate about calling attention to how ingredients are sourced. Sharing the names of farmers and what they do to supply ingredients is one step towards creating a better support system for them, he said.
Chef Mark Weaver from Tre Trattoria joins the team as a guest chef at Sunday’s dinner. Jesse Torres of Mixtli will pair the food with cocktails, wine, and beer. Barbershop harmony style music will be sung by The Marcsmen, San Antonio’s Premier Men’s A Cappella Chorus. Alamo City Provisions sells reservations like theater tickets. They can be purchased here.
*Featured/top image: At the Landa Gardens installment of Alamo City Provisions, chefs create dishes inspired by books. Photo by David Rangel.