There’s a well-practised ritual that comes with dining in the social-media age: the preliminary online restaurant search triggered by a specific craving; the maniacal skimming of reviews to determine which dishes are most responsible for a destination’s four-and-a-half-star score; and finally, if you’re really crafty, a geotag sweep through Instagram for visual confirmation of the aforementioned findings.
But consider this strategy all but thrown out the window when you commit to one of the Dine Out Vancouver Festival’s most anticipated events—the Secret Supper Soirée.
Organized by chef Robin Kort of culinary-tour company Swallow Tail, the speakeasy-style dinner excursion operates amid an air of delicious, deep-seated mystery. Every year, dozens of curious diners pile onto an old-school trolley bus at Pacific Central Station, and it takes them to a number of top-secret stops to enjoy a multicourse dinner prepared by a local chef.
The three-hour event combines two of Kort’s biggest passions: creative, seasonally inspired cooking and 1930s paraphernalia. “I’d wanted to do a travelling or tasting tour for a while, and the 1930s theme sort of popped up,” she says in a phone interview. “I used to be a swing dancer, and I like that kind of style and music.”
The decade is reflected in every aspect of the evening: attendees are encouraged to dress in era-appropriate gear, from dresses and feather boas to flat caps and double-breasted suits, and each destination is selected for its historical significance.
“I do a lot of wandering aimlessly,” Kort says without a hint of irony, explaining her method for scouting the soirée’s clandestine spots. As on previous tours, the three little-known locations in this year’s event are in buildings that were standing during the 1930s, including a former longshoremen’s club and a gorgeous, speakeasy-esque space that previously served as a meeting place for Japanese immigrants.
Just as inspired by the overarching ’30s theme—though shrouded in slightly less secrecy—is the soirée’s multi-course dinner menu. Created by chef Jacob Deacon-Evans, formerly of Supermarine, Wildebeest, and Bishop’s Restaurant, this year’s meal features a curried winter-vegetable salad that’s a nod to the Sikh immigrants who arrived in Vancouver during the 1920s and ’30s, and a candied-salmon spread that references the First Nations hunting grounds that once occupied the tour’s first site.
Deacon-Evans will prepare a similarly inspired grilled beef tongue in a cooking demonstration at the event’s second location, before guests are whisked to the final spot, where they’ll enjoy a main course of roasted lingcod, oyster mushrooms, and clam emulsion, and a charred-apple dessert.
Each course will be expertly paired with a wine from Naramata’s Lake Breeze Wine Farm, and attendees can also expect another playful aspect before the night is over: a dress-up trunk and a photo booth that they’re free to get silly in.
“I always like an interactive component at each event, so it’s more than just food,” Kort says. “It’s something that they can remember and tell people about.”
A handful of other events in this year’s Dine Out Vancouver Festival also give people plenty of reason to move beyond the meal. The culinary fete’s Film Feast series, for example, treats guests to a movie screening before serving up a meal inspired by the foods pictured on-screen. Act I, Eat 1: Common Grace, a dinner-and-play combo directed by Ron Reed, and Bhangra With Vij’s, a family-style feast featuring live entertainment from the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration, offer immersive elements of their own.
Still, we’d bet it’s the mystique that surrounds the Secret Supper Soirée that will get the most tongues wagging. “It’s kind of that one-off thing you do in the year that’s kind of different,” Kort says.