The dining room at Le Cavalier at the Green Room in the Hotel DuPont in Wilmington, DE, is packed – sold out – for this evening’s prix fixe dinner. The wait staff circles the spacious dining room, topping off glasses of Alsatian sparkling wine in anticipation for the first course trio’s arrival, while owner Chef Tyler Akin casually strolls from table to table, chatting with familiar faces and first-time guests.
Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, Nicholas Bazik – Chef Nich – and a small coterie of subtitled chefs scurry to prepare the first course trio of caviar with potatoes mousseline and oysters, scallops chaud-froid with brown butter and Jonah crab croustade. The reason that Bazik is so hurried – and perhaps harried – and Akin so relaxed is it’s not Bazik’s kitchen. He had borrowed it from Akin, who has invited the itinerant chef to do a beta test of his cuisine – a road show soft opening as it were – while his Resonance restaurant in Philadelphia’s Old City is undergoing preparations for a grand opening in the spring of 2024.
“It’s one of six showcases or previews we are doing while we get Resonance ready,” Bazik says after he comes up for air a couple of days later. “I prefer to use those terms to explain what we are doing rather than ‘pop-ups.’”
Of course, Bazik and Akin are not the first friends and chefs to share kitchens as a form of staging to preview a new restaurant before it cuts its party ribbon. Still, it is not an everyday occurrence, and it is one that takes lots of planning and preparation. In some ways it’s similar to when theatre producers would work the kinks out of their new shows on stages in places like Hartford or, indeed, Wilmington before heading for Broadway.
“The reasons are multi-faceted,” says Bazik, who has the requisite background in various commercial kitchens in the Philadelphia area. “First, cooking is a craft that you get better by doing. Second, it’s a way to exercise the thoughts and ideas that you have been accruing through the years. It also allows you to connect with various food purveyors you have not previously dealt with. Finally,” he says, “it helps get my name and the name of my restaurant out there.”
Bazik’s plan for Resonance is to offer somewhat intimate French fine dining. “We will have 22 seats with 12 of them in a room that acts like a wine cellar where they can also be served cocktails,” he says. “The space previously served as a restaurant, but we had to gut it.”
The six road show performance came at the invitation of the chefs involved, Bazik says. Some helped in the creation of the menu, while others were more hands-off. “Each was a separate adventure,” he says, and the staffing in the kitchen on the night of the event was further complicated because some the sub-chefs are employed by the restaurant, “and two to four were people who will be working with me at Resonance.”
So what have the reviews been like? “We received great feedback,” Bazik says, “and all but one event was sold out. One customer even came to five of the dinners!”
Next stop: Opening night at Broadway on the Delaware.