Agricultural landscapes and the food they yield inspired Matthew Domingo's culinary-events company.
Two years after founding Farm to Fork, Domingo is moving his interpretation of the eat-local movement underground.
"It's kind of like our take on a restaurant," says the 32-year-old chef. "We really want to tie in the food artisans this year."
Farm to Fork's Artisan Underground series is the first locally to tap into the big-city trend of "pop-up" restaurants. These impromptu eateries open often for just one night in an obscure location, serving diners who find the place usually by invitation. Farm to Fork's first pop-up is planned for Thursday, July 12, and will materialize monthly on the first or second Thursday.
"We're just going to give them the address, not really the name of anything," says Domingo, explaining that the venues most likely will be businesses that otherwise aren't open at night.
"It might be at Noble Coffee," he says. "Could be at a bakery."
Also likening the experiences to Prohibition-era speakeasies, Domingo plans a focus on creative cocktails using Organic Nation spirits for Artisan Underground instead of Farm to Fork's emphasis on local wines at its on-farm dinners. Guests can expect an antique ambiance, as well, that incorporates locally produced artworks and live music.
"Everything will kind of match with the aesthetic," says Domingo.
The chef who honed his skills at Portland's Park Kitchen and tended bar at Mint isn't just adept at culinary design. He expanded Farm to Fork over the past year to offer public-relations services, including website construction and other types of visual design. He transplanted the idea for Farm to Fork from the Willamette Valley, the setting for a farm-dinner series dubbed "Plate & Pitchfork" for the past decade.
Farm to Fork's new underground events delve deeper into all the "nitty-gritty details" of an actual restaurant, including decor, says Domingo. Displaying art for one evening likely will involve stringing up clotheslines or erecting easels hammered together from old ladders, he adds.
The size of the facility will dictate the number of diners, but underground events will be about half the size — with 40 to 60 people — of Farm to Fork farm dinners. Menus will be less structured and could consist of numerous appetizers rather than a traditional progression of courses. Domingo says he plans to reveal a theme for each event, along with the proteins and food artisans, such as bakers, cheesemakers or chocolatiers, featured for the evening.
"It will depend on what's at the farmers market that day," he says of the other ingredients.
The cost of $45 to $65 per person also is lower than other Farm to Fork events, which Domingo says he hopes will attract a younger clientele. Promoting the underground series through online media, including social networking, is a strategy to appeal to diners in their 20s and 30s, he says, adding that about half the participants in farm dinners are between ages 55 and 75.
"We already have a huge list of people who have signed up," he says.
Invitations are sent to diners who sign up at www.farmtoforkevents.com. The address for each event will be emailed the week before. The day of the event, Domingo will mark the location with a lighted @ symbol. Finally, guests must give the password at the door.
The first underground event will pop up in Jacksonville, says Domingo. For the password — good for events all year — go to Sarah Lemon's Facebook page, www.facebook.com/thewholedish, or follow @thewholedish on Twitter.
Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.