The first of its kind in the U.S., Napa's new Kitchen Collective is like a country club for foodies and cooking enthusiasts.
It works like this: Members invite friends over for a nice dinner that they slaved away at, but instead of hosting at home, dinner is prepared in a state-of-the-art kitchen under the guidance of a trained chef and takes place in an upscale restaurant atmosphere.
The best part: you don't have to do the dishes.
(Courtesy of Kitchen Collective)
Owner Garret Murphy, a Bostonian with a French accent, adapted the idea from Spain, after visiting a cooking club in Basque. Though cooking clubs have been popular throughout Europe for centuries, he sat on his idea for 10 years, until food-focused startups such as EatWith and GrubWithUs started popping up, and he felt that America was finally ready for it. A culinary capitol like Napa (also his home) seemed like the ideal place to test it out.
The "What's for dinner?" conundrum meets its match at Kitchen Collective, for there are no restrictions on what you can cook. Explore every cuisine from Greek to Korean, and hone your Top Chef skills. If you want to learn how to make brioche, carve a turkey, or filet a fish, their chefs will teach you.
Murphy plucks his chefs fresh out of the local Culinary Institute of America (CIA), believing that millennials will be more open to the unique concept and start-up culture at Kitchen Collective, a far cry from a regimented Thomas Keller kitchen.
(Courtesy of Kitchen Collective)
Just a few minutes from downtown Napa, Kitchen Collective is located in an ivy-covered building off Soscol Avenue. The kitchen, multiple private dining rooms, and a bar and lounge area encompass a center courtyard and fire pit. Most rooms can open up their doors on a nice day, and a panel of windows looks in on the action in the kitchen. A multi-purpose wood-burning pizza oven is stationed outside, where in the summer, Murphy says more events will take place.
When I learned about Kitchen Collective, I immediately wanted in. I love cooking and hosting, but my apartment is small and my kitchen extremely limited. I invited two other couples to join me and my fiance at the cooking club for dinner, and was delighted not to spend the day simultaneously cooking and cleaning in preparation for company.
Upon arrival, we were escorted to the bar where we each ordered a drink (two complimentary glasses of wine are included in each visit). The bar serves small bites, cocktails, and has an exclusive wine list featuring selections from the club's member winemakers, including Napa Valley legend Philippe Melka.
As a crock pot enthusiast, I consider Blue Apron a challenge, so I was excited for the chance to branch out into uncharted territory. I let Kitchen Collective surprise us with the night's menu, and was initially a bit disappointed when they said we'd be cooking chicken piccata—not something more exotic like sushi, which the group after us was excitedly lined up to do.
When they were ready for us in the kitchen, we were each—get this—handed a blue apron. Split up into pairs with two chefs assisting us, one couple was on sides duty (brussel sprouts and salad with endives, pear, and gorgonzola) and another was tasked with making the chicken and sauce. The luckiest pair was given a crash course in handmade pasta with the KitchenAid, a delicate and intensive process that requires extreme focus.
Over the next hour or so, I picked up a few techniques to use at home, such as how to make a quick-and-easy mustard-based vinaigrette. After being told that I don't need to chop so aggressively, I realized that I desperately need to upgrade my knife set (hello, wedding registry), and I learned that adding salt to boiling water isn't necessarily limited to just a big pinch. My chef instructed me to pour it in until it tasted "like the ocean."
But aside from the educational merits, the process was fun, different, and once we finally sat down to eat at a large, wood slab table, rewarding.
With five platters of food in front of us for six people, we told our server to get the take home boxes ready, and yet 20 minutes later, it was all gone. Everything from the Brussel sprouts to the piccata sauce was phenomenal, and we're mostly sure it wasn't just because we cooked it, or used copious amounts of butter. The group was in unanimous agreement that this was the best chicken piccata we'd ever had.
Each couple immediately started crunching the numbers to see how a membership might fit into their budgets. Compared to the typical country club costs, Kitchen Collective is much more inclusive. A full membership, which includes daily kitchen access, is $250 per month, plus a $3,000 initiation fee. In the Bay Area, that monthly fee is easily the equivalent of three dinners out.
A social membership, which doesn't include kitchen access, is $150 per month, plus a $1,500 initiation fee, but we think that pretty much defeats the purpose.
Ingredients are all in-house and included in your membership cost, with the exception of protein, which is extra. Members also have exclusive access to wine and culinary events, including restaurant pop-ups, winemaker dinners, and cooking classes.
// Kitchen Collective is located at 1650 Soscol Ave. (Napa), kitchencollective.club