The Watch That Ends The Night is closed for regular service, but excited guests are there to sample “The Drinking Food of Thailand.” This is the Four Hands Collaborative Dinner Series, a monthly dining event at the King’s Wharf restaurant, helmed by owner and Executive Chef Mark Gray.
The seven-course seating, prepared by Gray, Watch Head Chef Janine Bogardus, and Chef David Woodley of Black Sheep, takes diners on a flavourful tour of Thai street food. With cocktail pairings by Black Sheep bartender Marika Bouchard (now at The Exchange on Hollis) and the Watch’s own mixologists, the event offers guests a captivating experience.
Although the concept of pop-up dining has been around for a while (first taking root in bigger cities like New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Montreal) interest in special-event dining has grown in Halifax over the last five years. “It takes you out of the every-day, out of your routine,” says Gray. “It’s good for the city it’s good for the clientele. It’s great for chefs. Collaboration over competition.”
Joe Martin and Brock Unger, the duo behind the Cahoots series of themed pop-up style events (billed as a “Cooks Collective,”), echo the sentiment. “The city’s too small, so everyone assumes we’re competing,” says Martin, master of the Stillwell Beer Garden barbecue pit. “We’re just trying to grow the whole city. Like, more fish in the water all the sharks eat.”
Initially, they just wanted more opportunities to cook creatively, but the effort quickly became collaborative, providing an avenue for cooks in the local scene who usually lack the platform to showcase their own food. “I love the community-building aspect of it,” says Unger, who worked most recently at Brooklyn Warehouse and is currently in the midst of planning something new. “Also giving people a platform and opportunity to show their creativity.”
And with Cahoots themes so far spanning metal, hip-hop, Seinfeld, game meats, vegetarian, women only, cafeteria grub, and late-night pub food (and more), creativity gets room to thrive.
“I was looking for a creative outlet,” says Natalie Rosen, Chef de Cuisine at Field Guide and one of four women behind Xenia Social Society, a collective named for the Greek goddess of hospitality that hosts “immersive gatherings in non-traditional spaces.”
Rosen found what she was looking for in a partnership with Ceilidh Sutherland (co-owner of Field Guide and the Highwayman), Katie Tower (Field Guide’s service manager), and Nicole Raufeisen, (manager and sommelier of Little Oak and The Ostrich Club).
When it comes to pop-up dining in Halifax, Xenia is different, and not just because it’s run by four women. “One of the things that makes this unique is the interest in the spaces,” says Raufeisen. “We want all the events to be different and unique. So we are letting that happen naturally. Either we find the space or space comes to us, and the ideas follow. We’re not in a particularly huge rush to force events, they’ll just kind of happen.”
For the women of Xenia, part of the drive to host these events is to create something they would want to attend. “I think we want to create something we would go to,” says Rosen. “Creating those experiences for people. Having something unique that exemplifies the talent in the city. Customers are starting to gravitate more to that kind of experience. And providing that is an exciting opportunity.”
Plus there’s the high that comes from creating something new, even if impermanent.
“When you create a business it’s this huge amount of work, and then you give birth to the thing, and it’s really amazing,” says Sutherland. “Then you’re working every day, so getting to create a new space from scratch is rewarding.”
The opportunity to branch out in new directions is also key. “I’m interested in throwing a dance party, workshops, more food events, or maybe just wine, art, art and food, art and dancing,” says Tower. “It could literally be anything.”
Even for Halifax’s more established dinner series the ability to change and adapt is essential to keep things fresh. Gray recently announced that, starting with their October feast, for which they partnered with Kitsune Food Co., Four Hands will take place in Cassiopeia, their new private dining room. That, along with a cut in seating (from 36 to 12 seats) will make the Four Hands experience more “exclusive, intimate, and refined.”
Says Gray, “We’re always trying to move forward here and try new things.”