When Katie and Denny Culbert dreamed up Runaway Dish, they wanted to do more than throw a quarterly dinner party. They wanted their guests to know where their food was coming from. For them to know the chefs preparing it. And for the chefs preparing it to know each other. Runaway Dish is more than an underground supper club—it’s uprooting an entire culinary community.
After attending a Blind Pig charity dinner in Asheville, North Carolina, the Culberts realized that in a sea of extraordinarily talented chefs, there was a lack of collaboration between restaurants in Lafayette. The chefs featured at Blind Pig weren’t coworkers, but co-creators, joining forces to create an experience that benefits their local and culinary communities through gastronomical artistic innovation. The inspiration was infectious, and Runaway Dish was formed.
Every three months, two chefs from different restaurants are given free rein to cook up a menu revolving around a central theme. With no restrictions on ingredients or equipment, Runaway Dish provides an experimental playground for its chefs. “We let them do their thing, and our goal is to promote them and provide the venue for them to really show off,” says Denny. Although only two are featured, local chefs are eager to lend a helping hand and socialize with their peers. “There were 35 chefs in the kitchen at our last dinner. Everyone leaves their egos behind and are just there to play.”
Beyond the food, the dinners help Lafayette locals see various locations in a new light. Past events had guests enjoying deconstructed grilled cheese at a 60-seat table running through the Children’s Museum of Acadiana and watching short films outdoors before indulging in a smoked meat symphony at Johnson’s Boucaniere. “Runaway Dish is a once-in-a-lifetime dinner every time,” says Denny. “That group of chefs is never going to come together to create that menu ever again. Especially not in that venue.”
Each feast not only provides a much-needed creative outlet for chefs and diners alike, but helps support small, often overlooked nonprofits at the same time. After covering the costs for food, equipment rentals and flatware, proceeds are donated to a local charity where a little bit can go a long way.
In the tradition of building something special from scratch, along with each meal comes an original publication populated by photos, recipes, illustrations, articles and poems. The content created itself when Denny, a food photographer, needed an outlet for his photos taken at the dinners. As manager of jewelry and clothing boutique, kiki, Katie has a natural eye for aesthetics and together they created the visually stunning Runaway Dish culinary journal. The magazine made its surprise debut to the delight of guests at the end of the second dinner. “I feel like that made everyone feel like they were a part of something and a part of the community as well,” says Katie.
June 5th marks the one-year anniversary of the Culberts’ vision and the fifth installment of Runaway Dish, Haut Terroir. In concordance with the upcoming Day of the Acadians, the dinner concept will center on foraging and feature dishes created from plants and animals indigenous to Louisiana. Featured chefs Jeremy Connor of Village Café and Ashley Roussel of Social Southern Table & Bar will give guests a taste of what life was like for the first Louisiana settlers. Benefits will proceed the Center for Louisiana Studies who are currently raising funds to restore the Roy House, one of the oldest historic buildings on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s campus, for thier new office building. You can get more info on Runaway Dish and find out about upcoming dinners by clicking here.
From the Runaway Dish Kitchen
Create some of the magic from the Avant Garden dinner yourself with these recipes from Denny and Katie.
Denny’s “Mother-In-Law” Sugar
Here’s a little something that we always have on hand at our house. We discovered these potent little sugar cubes on a trip to the Abruzzo region of Italy, usually offered after a big meal. When we returned home, we had a bunch of chefs over to the house and served them. The chefs loved them so much that these little babies made it to the menu of the last Runaway Dish dinner. You can use any herb to flavor the sugar cubes, but we prefer tarragon for the anise taste and the bright green color.
– White sugar cubes
Fill a mason jar with white sugar cubes and a handful of tarragon layered throughout.
Pour in Everclear (or any kind of grain alcohol as anything less potent will just dissolve the sugar) until completely covered.
The cubes will be ready in a couple of days and probably keep forever.
Place individual sugar cubes on spoons, light on fire, blow out, and consume!
Katie’s Ginger Shots
I juice fresh ginger root daily. Occasionally I will throw in a bit of celery or lemon or beet for added flavor and color. When you drink it, it’s like an instant zing and then slow burn throughout your whole body. And it’s so unbelievably good for you. Google it. At the last Runaway Dish dinner, Chefs Clair Burton and Mike Field requested I make ginger shots for all of the guests. In addition to lemon, I added pear so it wouldn’t be quite as jarring as usual. The reaction was exciting and interesting.
– Fresh Ginger Root, one big knob about the size of your hand
– I lemon, peeled
– I -2 pears or apples
Chop everything up and run through a juicer.
You should get about 10 ounces of juice.
Pour tiny shots and drink throughout the day.