If you want to reserve a seat at one of Philly’s hottest tasting menu dinners, you’ll have to do a bit of soul searching first.
“If you could dine with three guests, dead or alive, who would they be?”
Along with standard queries like allergies or dietary restrictions, the above question is one of several in the profile quiz that greets people looking to sign up for events by Black, a new chef collaborative from the mind of Southwest Philly native Khoran Horn.
According to Horn, a classically-trained chef who’s owner of Old City’s Stripp’d Juice, asking potential ticket buyers to provide their personal info — including their profession and Instagram handle — serves multiple goals. A primary one is to ensure the endeavor puts on events that go beyond just a regular supper club.
“At supper clubs…people eat, they show up, they disappear, and that’s really it,” Horn explained. “What we’re doing has more intent, more purpose.”
Before each meal they serve, Horn and co-conspirators Gerald Allen (a chef from Delaware) and James Smith (a bartender at Vernick) will sift through guests’ Instagram accounts to suss out musical tastes — and then tailor the event soundtrack to match. Or they’ll pick up on other features that allow them to personalize the dining experience.
“If we get nine dog lovers coming, for example, we’re definitely doing free dog treats at the end,” Horn said.
That attention to personal detail is one thing that sets Black apart. Another is the branding, which is strikingly minimalist, with monochrome imagery, a flipped central “A” in bold text and lots of white space. It’s almost reminiscent of Apple’s style — no coincidence, since Horn worked retail for the tech giant for nearly a decade after getting burnt out post culinary school.
Horn first translated the marketing lessons he learned at Apple into his cold-pressed juice and acai bowl shop, which is thriving on North Third Street. To exercise his creative talents, he hosted a pop-up Kanye West-themed dinner there in 2016, and it sold out immediately. A second Outkast-themed event was similarly popular.
Recognizing there was a desire for this kind of event, Horn put his mind to making it a more regular thing, and launched Black some 18 months later.
“Judges wear black, it can be an elegant thing, black tie affairs,” Horn said, explaining how he chose the collaborative’s name. “We want our dinners to encompass everything that is the color.”
And of course, part of what informs the company name is the makeup of its team: all three men are African American.
“I think there is a slight pulse that is changing right now where it comes to black people in the culinary industry,” Horn told Billy Penn.
He referenced local happenings like the Cooking for the Culture dinner series, and also national milestones, like the recent James Beard Award given to Edouardo Jordan, the first-ever African-American chef to win Best New Restaurant.
The acceptance of black fine dining is increasing, Horn said, but “it’s only gonna really change when people start to die off.” It’s not just white people who pigeonhole black cooking as just soul food or Southern classics, he observed. “Like, my mom and dad are likely not coming to these dinners.”
That’s certainly not the case for all older African Americans in Philadelphia.
Britney Norman, a marketing executive who attended Black’s first dinner at the beginning of July, said her 75-year-old mother is already planning to snag tickets after hearing Norman rave about the experience.
“It was different and unique,” Norman said, calling the dinner “entirely worth” its $150 price tag, which included both food and drink. “It was very curated, tying in the music and the art and the drink pairings.”
As for having to fill out the dream dinnermate question before she even had a chance to pick up a ticket, Norman appreciated the requirement, because it served as a conversation starter.
“You’re sitting there with people you don’t really know,” she explained, “so literally the first 45 minutes we were all going through our lists [of people we chose], saying why, finding those different commonalities. It’s much more fun than just asking people ‘So, what do you do?’”
So far, word of mouth has been enough to sell out each Black pop-up well in advance, despite the fact that info like menu and location aren’t released publicly.
The date for the next event has not yet been announced, but if you create your Black guest profile — along with your three picks, dead or alive, for persons you’d love to dine with — you’ll be first to know.