Fine Dining is Dead
Theory Kitchen, the culinary brainchild of 22-year-old Tufts University graduate, Theo Friedman, recently returned to Boston for a weekend of multi-course dinners. Friedman curated the menu himself, sourced all of the necessary ingredients, and spent the week leading up to the event prepping dishes and tinkering with flavor combinations. Typically, Friedman operates Theory Kitchen in New York City in a pop-up style, meaning dinners are held as an irregular, one-of-a-kind experience. These dinners are a way for guests to enjoy handcrafted, creative dishes and for Friedman to explore the range of taste sensations that come from simply mixing ingredients together. Theory Kitchen operates on an extremely small scale—it’s essentially a one-man production. Still, the restaurant has found success through consistently good food in an exceptionally intimate environment.
The concept behind Theory Kitchen was first conceived in 2010 when Friedman was a freshman at Tufts, cooking spontaneous and elaborate dinners out of the bare-bones kitchen in his dorm. Friedman recalled finding 10 white plates in a “freecycle” bin on campus and using them at his early dinner parties. Despite an increase in budget and resources, Friedman continues to follow the 10-plate model, meaning his dinners rarely accommodate more than 10 guests per seating. By offering limited space at each event, Friedman can give special attention to each guest’s meal while also creating a space that is intimate, exclusive, and one-of-a-kind.
“Fine dining as we know it is dead. There is an overwhelming desire for alternatives from the traditional restaurant experience,” Friedman explained. The experience that Theory Kitchen offers is unique in its small size as well as its self-selectivity. Because the brand relies mostly on word-of-mouth to publicize its events, most of the guests, although strangers to each other, are in some way connected to Friedman. Through the adventurous flavors of Friedman’s dishes and the communal setting, the guests come together in a fleeting moment of shared sensory experience and discovery.
The Theory Kitchen team is largely Friedman wearing many hats—he plans the menus, sources the ingredients, and does all of the prep work. His partner Dynan travels to New York City, Theory Kitchen’s headquarters, on the eve of an event and assists in the actual cooking and putting together of the dishes. Friedman explained that the team fluctuates based on the size and location of the event, but he usually hires an additional person to serve and clear the dishes and do the beverage pairings.
With such a small team, Friedman and his associates are constantly interacting with the guests throughout the meal. Through the intimate setting, Theory Kitchen strives to bridge the gap between the person enjoying the dining experience and the person behind the scenes making that experience possible. “What we’re trying to create here is an environment where the people making the food are as excited to be making it as you are to be enjoying it. This experience is not a one-man show and a lot of hands go into making this meal that you wouldn’t normally think or know about,” Friedman said.
What makes Theory Kitchen a unique dining experience is the element of surprise and individuality that comes with each dinner. Friedman noted that he never repeats a dish from event to event, and that every dinner seating—mere hours apart—usually has a slightly tweaked menu, and sometimes a completely different one altogether. “We can totally try new things and we don’t even give people menus…and that gives us total control and flexibility to sub something out, even on the fly. And that’s just something you’re not going to get in a restaurant.” This unique, nine-course dining experience comes at a cost—Friedman charges 80 dollars per person, or 125 if diners want specialized drinks.
Theory Kitchen prides itself on the creative, boundary-pushing dishes it delivers to diners. Friedman shared two of his current specialties: an uni donut, made with sea urchin, black garlic, and ouzo kochu aioli; and a chicharrón “rice krispie,” made of pork skin that has been cooked into a puff and served with dulce de leche and black lime. All of Friedman’s recipes are original, born of a lifetime of passionate eating and experimenting with different flavor combinations. Though he eventually hopes to open a restaurant in a permanent space, Friedman said that Theory Kitchen is exactly where he wants to be right now. “I still have lots to learn. And at the end of the day, I just want to cook for people.”