The Hearth — unexpected dining

Staff Writer

University of Chicago first year student Robert Lipman missed home cooked meals when he came to Chicago from California. He assumed that other students might be tired of eating out of dorm cafeterias or ramen noodles, too.

He was right.

Lipman has begun a monthly pop-up restaurant, known as The Hearth, for never more than six people at a location announced only the day of the dinner.

“I’m plating a course while they’re finishing one,” Lipman said. “It makes for this really amazing social experience.”

Lipman announces The Hearth’s dinners on his website. To get into the lottery, interested parties must have an e-mail address that is affiliated with a university or college. Students from as far away as Madison, Wisc., have signed up in the past. Three names are then chosen from the lottery and everyone is invited to bring one guest.

Each meal costs $25, enough to cover Lipman’s costs without making a profit.

Without advertising, the first dinner had 168 people put their names in the lottery. By the third, 268 people requested to come.

Lipman wants to keep the event exclusive to university students and staff for safety reasons and to help ensure the guests have some things in common.

Each dinner has a different theme. He started planning first one, a Harry Potter-themed dinner, before he even arrived on campus.

The Hearth’s next dinner, which will take place at an undisclosed location on Jan. 19, is a five-course dinner based around coffee.

“People love coffee here,” Lipman said. “They sweat coffee and bleed Nutella.”

The meal will start with an almond granita with candid capers, coffee cream and bergamot, followed by espresso-rubbed scallops, with sweet potato, arugula and walnut. Guests will then be served a dark chocolate espresso rubbed short rib and apricot orzo. Dessert will be a salted caramel mocha, deconstructed from its parts.

The Harry Potter-themed dinner was “A Night of Witchcraft and Wizardry,” It took place back in October and included a chocolate cauldron cake and butterbeer ice cream.

The second dinner, in early November, was inspired by The French Laundry, a three Michelin-starred restaurant in the Napa Valley region of California. All dishes were Lipman’s interpretations of famous dishes from the restaurant. That meal included lamb chops with cassoulet of summer beans and rosemary.

The most recent dinner, at the very end of November, was titled “Spirited Away” and was inspired by the food in Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s movies.
Each course featured food that was shown in one of Miyazaki’s films, including “Noodles with HAAMM!!!” from the 2008 movie “Ponyo.”

Lipman, an economics major, doesn’t have much formal training in high-end cooking, but he has a taste for Michelin-starred food and a mother who used to write cookbooks for a living.

“I like the sort of family-style dinner,” Lipman said. “I wanted people to feel like they’re at home.”

He spent some time working in the United Kingdom, at an internship related to his economics major.

“I would eat chicken nuggets for a week to be able to afford high-end food,” Lipman said. In one month he ate at restaurants that between them had 16 Michelin stars.

Most dinners are prepared and served in a different dorm-building kitchen, though meals have taken place on the Quad.

Future meals may not be dinner at all, Lipman said. He’s been toying with the idea of doing an afternoon tea, or “just desserts.”