It’s interesting to me that in our culture, dining at a community table is not a common practice. I often find myself dining “alone” at a community table at events that I attend as part of my work, and I have found them to be some of the richest, most memorable dining experiences I’ve had.
“We’re interestingly vulnerable in a community dining setting,” Christine Vasquez, owner of FORK Social Lab, told me recently, “and I wanted to create a platform to engage that.”
Occupying a little corner of prime real estate in Louisville, one door south of Main Street and Pine, the FORK Social Lab is a charming, if unassuming little storefront that holds a lot of big ideas. Within the cozy space, Vasquez can seat only 20 people, and there’s no kitchen. Yet she manages to hold cooking classes, chef dinners, craft markets and other culinary explorations several times a month that belie the physical confines of the space.
“The events are really just an excuse to get people to gather around a table,” Vasquez confides, and indeed, bringing people together seems to be her main passion and talent. She and her husband David Vasquez opened Fork in September 2011, and so far they are content to let their business model evolve with the tastes of the public.
Their chef dinners are certainly popular, as are their newer educational events hosted by experts like Dan Hayward of Savory Spice Shop in Boulder, who leads spice classes, and Nathan Miller of Nathan Miller Chocolates, who has been offering chocolate demonstrations—and tastings, of course.
But perhaps their piece de la resistance so far was the pop-up restaurant dinner FORK hosted at the end of March headlined by Top Chef winner Hosea Rosenberg. The event had to be held at the Louisville Center for the Arts (another venue without a kitchen) and sold out its 60-seat allocation; Vasquez ended up adding 12 additional seats because she couldn’t bear to leave languishing on a waiting list.
The event was stunning both in its simplicity (plain white tablecloths and china, minimalist decorations) and its decadence. For his part, chef Rosenberg wowed diners with an extraordinary menu of local delicacies, all expertly prepared in his mobile kitchen just outside the Arts Center and paired with wines from Infinite Monkey Theorem. As Rosenberg is a passionate supporter of our local food community, much of the dinner was sourced locally, some from his own farm, and students from the Boulder Escoffier Culinary School assisted him with the dinner.
The event was an unqualified success. But when I asked Vasquez if she planned to host more of these larger events, she smiled and shrugged. She is happy with her little space on Main Street. While she’s certainly not opposed to larger events, she wants to continue to help people to discover their local food culture in that intimate setting, where they can allow themselves to feel a little bit vulnerable in order to open up to a new cultural and culinary experience.
5 Upcoming Fork Experiences
1. April 5: Chefs Susanna Minichiello and Chelsea Jowell of Back to Basics Kitchen present a gluten-free Brazilian feast; $50
2. April 10: Latin Spice Class with Dan Hayward of Savory Spice Shop; $20
3. April 25: Chef John Campbell of The Heirloom Food Truck offers a three-course dinner of his famous “farm-to-truck” dishes; $45
4. Summer Saturday Markets: Food, arts, and crafts (plus probably a food truck or two!) each Saturday in June and July from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
5. May 4: “Swine Dining” Celebration featuring Chef Jake Gandolfo. Two seatings at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.