“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” - Henry David Thoreau
A food experience that will make you cartwheel
by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Alex Negranza appeared appropriately caffeinated when he sat down with The Capitol Hill Times to discuss An Evening With…, his new business with Bex Karnofski, which, uses the pop-up restaurant concept to promote some of Seattle’s top chefs, bartenders, wine stewards and baristas. The debut of Negranza’s project is “An Evening with Stumptown Coffee,” a luxurious dinner that puts Seattle’s favorite bean front and center. Full of nervous energy from darting around the city to coordinate this literally once-in-a-lifetime affair, Alex set the scene in the basement roasting station at Stumptown on 12th Avenue.
“There will be only 50 seats available, total. There’ll be a few back there; here by the roaster is where our sommes will be working. I think this bar here will be our cocktail staging area.”
On October 6, Negranza and his handpicked staff will transform Stumptown’s Seattle roasting home base into a one-night restaurant. He’ll host 50 ticket-holding patrons for a 5-course meal that, according to his preliminary pricing and industry experience, would be simply impractical at an ongoing eatery.
A pop-up restaurant is a special dining event that typically only runs for a single meal, and often takes place outside of a traditional restaurant setting. The Seattle foodie community has been hosting in-home supper clubs with professional assistance for years, and many culinary entrepreneurs have taken the first step toward opening their own brick-and-mortars by testing their chops at pop-ups. That’s what seasoned baker Rachael Coyle did to introduce the world to Coyle’s Bakery at the beginning of September, running a pop-up bakeshop at Book Larder to show off her pastry skills.
Negranza comes to An Evening With… as a service professional with a wide and varied career. He got his start at Wanderlust Coffee, a globally minded cafe in Modesto, California, which closed in 2008. After Wanderlust, Negranza took his barista skills to Trabant Coffee and Chai here in Seattle. In 2010, he made the switch to bartending, taking his long-standing gig at Liberty Bar on 15th Avenue East, entering the city’s burgeoning cocktail world and taking shifts at revered lounges like Tavern Law. Most recently, Negranza joined the team at The Old Sage, a knockout of a bar at East Madison Street and 12th Avenue that has every right to be proud of its scotch collection.
It’s this history in many facets of the food service industry that inspired Negranza to start his new business. Above serving unique dishes in an unusual setting, An Evening With… aims to highlight the artisanal excellence of the back-of-house heroes of Seattle who have gone unsung for years, but are now starting to step into the limelight.
“It was amazing; I’d never seen anything like it,” Neganza said of his recent visit to the culinary scene in Houston, Texas, “Everybody did everybody else’s job. Are you a barista? Maybe you do a shift as a bartender at some awesome bar down the street. Are you a chef? You’d take a couple shifts behind the counter at a café, too. Everybody learned from everybody.”
Using An Evening With… as his staging ground, Negranza wants to encourage Seattle’s service professionals to shape the same kind of community that he saw in Houston. Among the staff he’ll be managing at Stumptown on October 6 are chefs Mark Young, Jessie Chin, Emily Young and Alex Giger of Spur, Tavern Law, The Coterie Room and The Old Sage, respectively; Sommeliers Jake Kosseff of Crush and Nick Davis of Canlis; bartenders from Liberty, Canon, the Zig Zag Cafe, Toulouse Petit and the late, great Sambar; and talented servers from some of Seattle’s most high-end restaurants.
The menu at “An Evening with Stumptown” incorporates coffee in every course, from the Colombian El Jordan coffee paired with the golden beet amuse bouche consommé, to the coffee-rubbed venison loin at the fourth course, to the sweet, fruity Honduran Finca El Puente coffee served at dessert with Fernet ice cream and saffron olive oil cake. These and other unique treats could potentially appear individually on a restaurant’s regular menu, but the cost and sourcing associated with many of the pop-up’s dishes make the complete menu beyond unsustainable for even the most pricy establishment. But, according to Negranza, that’s the point.
“It’s about creating an experience as much as anything else,” he said, “I want to make a night people talk about. ‘Hey, remember that time we went to that pop-up where people were doing cartwheels?’ That’s crazy, but I can do it for one night. There are some really talented people [in Seattle], but they don’t often get to really show off. They’re working under someone else’s business and they have to make it profitable. For this one night, I want them to really be able to do what they want to do.”