One Night Only: NYC's Best Guest-Chef Series

By Kirsten Stamn  |  January 14, 2014

How can you try the food of the world's greatest chefs without leaving New York City? Easy: just sign up for one of the many new one-off, chef-collaboration projects that are popping up faster than we can count them. Two basic types of programs dominate in the city: the guest-chef-centric models like City Grit or the James Beard House, where the cast of characters changes constantly; the second type is at already-beloved restaurants like Empellón and Aldea, where visiting chefs bring new depth and flavors to some of NYC's top tables. Here, our favorite places to get a truly special one-of-a-kind meal.

  • City Grit

    What to Expect: Founded by Sarah Simmons, an amateur chef, this culinary salon has gained serious acclaim - and for good reason. With incredible chefs coming to visit every couple of days (recent alums include Sean Brock and Chris Hastings), diners are treated to world-class cuisine at a seriously slashed price tag; dinners usually fall in the $50-$85 range.

    The Space: These dinners take place at a now-defunct Catholic school in NoLita that’s filled with beautiful handcrafted furniture. Bonus: if you love the decor, you can take it home - everything is for sale.

    Coming Soon: Check out their ever-changing schedule here. Upcoming highlights include a visit from Nashville's Tyler Brown (of the Capitol Grille) this month, plus a special Chinese New Year's dinner.

    38 Prince St.; 646-580-5720

  • Dinner With Friends at the Wythe Hotel

    What to Expect: Andrew Tarlow’s dinner series at the Wythe Hotel calls for a celebrated chef to cook alongside Reynard's Sean Rembold, plus a winemaker to wine and dine its patrons. Recent alums include David Tanis, who celebrated his new book One Good Dish; Inaki Aizpitarte, of Le Chateaubriand in Paris; and acclaimed Argentine chef Francis Mallmann.

    The Space: Dinner With Friends takes place in the Wythe’s gorgeous private dining room, a rustic-yet-chic space that juxtaposes exposed brick (both on the walls and on the vaulted ceiling) with sleek tiled floors and crisp furnishings. 

    Coming Soon: This February, Rayneil de Guzman and Jerry Jacksich from Oakland's Ramen Shop will be visiting for a special dinner series on the 11th and the 12th.

    80 Wythe Ave.; 718-460-8000

  • Push Project

    What to Expect: Wunderkind chef Alex Stupak is already one of the most inventive cooks and restaurateurs in the city, but he’s constantly pushing himself to new boundaries with his Push Project series, where he collaborates with some of his favorite chefs (Chris Cosentino, Jordan Kahn and Enrique Olvera among them) to break the mold and gain new inspiration. We were particularly thrilled by his 2013 collaboration with Grant Achatz, especially since the duo decided to throw together an extra last-minute final dinner with the help of legendary chefs Wylie Dufresne and Ken Oringer.

    The Space: Taking place in his East Village restaurant, Empellón Cocina, you can expect the same sleek interior and impeccable service.

    Coming Soon: Keep an eye peeled here for the announcement of his next installment, which is tentatively set to kick off in February.

    105 First Ave.; 212-367-0999

  • Aldea's Guest-Chef Series

    What to Expect: George Mendes’ modern Iberian Flatiron restaurant has had many a talented chef walk through its doors for its guest-chef series (think: Sean Brock, Sam Mason, John Shields and more). With inventive tasting menus - plus wine pairings and a cocktail hour - priced within the $100-$200 range, it’s a great way to have a unique, one-night-only meal that’s actually rather affordable.

    The Space: Aldea’s interior is upscale yet intimate, and you really can’t go wrong. We suggest snagging a seat in the back, where you can watch the chefs in action.

    Coming Soon: Nothing is finalized yet, but we’re expecting a stellar lineup of guest chefs, especially since this May marks the restaurant’s fifth-year anniversary.

    31 W. 17th St.; 212-675-7223

  • Dinner Lab

    What to Expect: If you’re into eating amazing food from under-the-radar chefs in, say, an abandoned building or a helipad, this dinner series is right up your alley. With five chapters throughout the country (plus another five more in the works), this popular membership club specializes in one-night-only meals that are both wacky and high-end.

    The Space: Each dinner is a totally unique experience, but you can be sure that the location is going to be totally unexpected. So far, there’s been dinners everywhere from construction sites to a food court, so you can be sure that you’re always going to be surprised.

    Coming Soon: Details for each event aren’t unveiled to the diners until the night before. It’s all a mystery.

    Locations vary; dinnerlab.com

  • RES

    What to Expect: Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli’s chef-artist residency in Red Hook has already seen some power players walk through its doors; in September, they played host to Le Fooding’s Time Mach’Inn dinner, where Yves Camdeborde, Peter Gordon and Booker & Dax’s Tristan Willey made contributions (alongside surprise guest Danny Bowien).

    The Space: With gravel below (stilettos are not advised) and rustic wooden tables, this outdoor space is perfect for a low-key hangout during the warm months. Plus, they’ve got lots of pretty lights strewn overhead, lending a lovely romantic vibe when the sun goes down.

    Coming Soon: There’s nothing on the calendar now, but once the warmer weather hits, expect this idyllic outdoor space to host summer barbecues, parties and more guest chefs in a relaxed, escape-from-the-city manner. If you want to be the first to be in-the-know about upcoming events, sign up for their mailing list here.

    372 Columbia St.; resresres.com

  • Credit: Eileen Miller

    James Beard House

    What to Expect: This is the OG of guest-chef dinners: the James Beard House is the end-all, be-all place for visiting chefs to show off their talent to a dining room full of adoring fans. Plus, with guest chefs gracing their kitchens almost every day, you can visit for both lunches and dinners (you also get a discount if you are a JBF member).

    The Space: This historic house is completely charming: you can not only eat at a table located where James Beard’s bed used to be, but you can also check out his old shower in the greenhouse dining room. Speaking of, the greenhouse’s glass ceiling and walls overlook a lovely garden, making for a great dinner setting.

    Coming Soon: This month alone, you can find Ryan Hardy (from Charlie Bird), David Bouley, and Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman (from Memphis’ Hog & Hominy and Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen).

    167 W. 12th St.; 212-627-2308

  • Wait, There’s More

    Make sure to keep your ears open for events happening at The Spotted Pig, Gramercy Tavern, Atera and Dominique Ansel, who all had great guest chefs stop in last year - and we hope they’ll do it again.