Drama for Dinner: A Q/A with Kitchen LTO Creator Casie Caldwell

Categories: Chewing the Fat

Sounds more "pressure cooker" than "incubator." How's Kitchen LTO going to work?
The whole idea really started with the focus being on the chef. Then I saw a restaurant in New York where the interior changes by the season. The focus isn't on the chef at all. They make the restaurant look completely different, based on the season or the time of the year. So I thought that sounded really cool; but what if you did the same thing with designers we match up with the chefs, and then it was like what if I don't even control who the folks are, and we get the millennials engaged, now there's a story to tell on every layer. It's a deeper way to experience a brand and an up-and-coming chef and designer.

So how do you pair them up?
Based on the timeline, the chefs and designers will have to be chosen five to six weeks out. I think the designer has the harder job, timewise. They'll be selected at the same time, when the voting starts. Right now we're accepting applications. That's just on paper, so we have to narrow it down to six to eight applicants, and bring them in for a tasting. Once they pass that litmus test we put them out on the website with a bio and tell them to self-promote. You can vote multiple times per day.

Like, with hashtags or on Facebook, or...
We're working with Lifeblue (the agency that created the Perot Museum and Klyde Warren Park websites), and they're working on the site and the plan for voting and everything. They're all about the experience online, which is so important. We've sat down and talked about how many times we want people to be able to vote, how they'll share, etc. You'll go online, see the chef's bio and maybe a video so the public can get to know them. People will vote and they'll be able to track and see how their chef is doing. We're working on incentives for voters too. We're trying to really engage them. I think foodies will want to engage. They get to be the judges.

It really sounds a lot like reality TV. What an incredible opportunity for these chefs.
The cool thing for the chefs and designers is that the investors behind Trinity Groves basically want first dibs on each chef. If the chef aspires to own their own restaurant, at the end of the three months they'll have three bigwigs ready to invest. Phil Romano is sitting at the end of the line waiting. There's a lot of upside. And of course the designer gets lots of exposure too.

And you!
It's definitely going to be a lot of work. It's a new challenge for me, my first foray into full-service. But I engaged the Chrises [Zielke and Jeffers of Bolsa and Bolsa Mercado], Blythe ["The Naughty Chef "Beck], Chad [Houser of Café Momentum, formerly of Parigi], Sharon Van Meter [chef/owner of 3015 Trinity Groves] and they've all been great to volunteer their time and be mentors to me. I've already interviewed two general managers because the staff will stay static. And they won't get bored. Then I thought, "Why not change out a mixologist each time?" Well, that might be next. Jason Kosmas [owner/co-founder of The 86 Co.] is on the committee so he could help with that. The public is essentially voting on how this restaurant will come together, and then we'll have to make it happen in six weeks.


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