Avocado helado with shrimp and tilapia ceviche is paired with a Violette-spiked mezcal margarita, a fruit and beet salad with cream sorbet is served with a pomegranate gin fizz, and a collard green and kale duck sausage pizza gets a l'orange Old Fashioned.
That's the type of food you can expect when you pair a private chef with a talented bartender and ask them to host a dinner party. Specifically, it's what happens when you put Boca Raton-based chef Jake Hébert and Delray Beach hospitality guru Justin Himmelbaum in the same kitchen together, the duo behind an upcoming pop-up dining series known as Mucho Gusto Delray.
In South Florida, those in search of truly inspired dining are often hard-pressed to find anything more than mediocre north of Miami-Dade. Which is why Hébert and Himmelbaum decided to team up and create Mucho Gusto Delray.
"Originally, the idea was to host a small dinner party for a group of friends," said Himmelbaum, who asked Hébert to help plan and cook a beer pairing menu. "When we were done, everyone was so excited about what we'd done, we decided we should find a way to keep doing it."
Today, Mucho Gusto Delray is being organized as a full-fledged pop-up and networking event — a way for people to share their passion for good food and drink in a relaxed, informal setting. Already several local foodies have taken part in a trial dinner, including Anika Needle (Miles + Mimosas) and Blair Novy (Miso Hungry Miso Full).
The impromptu series has plans to set up shop at a catering kitchen, local businesses, and private homes; the idea is to present each pop-up at a different location, says Himmelbaum, who has already targeted a variety of spaces for future pop-ups across Palm Beach County.
For now, Hébert and Himmelbaum want to keep things simple. A two-man operation, everything will be casual: Hébert cooks, Himmelbaum mixes drinks and acts as host, and Hébert's wife — Camilla — helps to serve and clear dishes. The idea is to grow slowly and hire staff as they increase the number of pop-up dates. Although Mucho Gusto Delray has already garnered a small, local following of eager, would-be patrons, the duo plan to keep each pop-up at 12 to 18 people per seating.
"This is a great way for people to come together and meet new people, and we're very open to collaboration" said Hébert. "It's a good time where people can enjoy some amazing food and drinks, with great company."
After a small trial dinner several months ago, Mucho Gusto Delray hosted a preliminary pop-up for a small group of friends in March, a five-course beer pairing dinner that included a popcorn appetizer, drinks, and a dessert course. The menu was organized a week in advance, says Hébert, made with locally grown and locally sourced ingredients presented with a decided Latin- and Asian-inspired flair.
A second friends and family pop-up took place on Sunday, April 12, following a format the duo hope to create moving forward: a 12:30 p.m. brunch and 5 p.m. dinner seating. Two four-course pairing menus were presented for each 18-person group, and dishes were paired with a complimentary handcrafted cocktail featuring gin, bourbon, and mescal. Courses included a beet and citrus salad; avocado, shrimp, and tilapia ceviche; duck sausage pizza with sun dried tomato pesto and a poached egg; and a pancake stuffed waffle topped with banana cream purée.
Moving forward, Mucho Gusto Delray plans to host regular pop-ups twice a month, offering a Sunday brunch and dinner. Prices will range from $55 to $75 per person and will include a multicourse pairing menu featuring a selection of beer, wine, or cocktails. They will also be available for private events.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.