When the founders of the Hi Neighbor restaurant group, Ryan Cole, chef Jason Halverson, Tai Ricci, and Jason Kirmse, opened their first eatery Stones Throw in 2013, they knew that they wanted to host a regular philanthropic event that involved collaborating with other chefs and sommeliers. The duo had come up with the idea years before when they worked under Michael Mina. “Back in the day we were trying to come up with ways to do interesting, different events within the Michael Mina organization,” Cole told Haute Living in a recent phone conversation. “We had thrown out the idea about doing a collaborative event with another group. We talked about it, but the logistics didn’t work in the company like that, with a structure like that.” Yet three months after Stones Throw debuted on Hyde Street, the group was hosting its first Eat Like a Chef, Drink Like a Somm event.
Every last Monday of the month, the staff opens the restaurant for a service with proceeds that are devoted entirely to charity. Cole and Halverson invite another restaurant’s chef and sommelier to join them in creating a five-course wine paired dinner, where three of the courses are prepared by Stones Throw and the other two are crafted by the guest chefs. Each restaurant’s sommelier pairs the course with a different wine. Last month’s event featured Tosca Cafe’s chef Josh Even and wine director Ceri Smith. At this month’s dinner, which takes place this evening, Jardiniére’s team will be joining Cole and Halverson in the kitchen. Next month, Mourad is on the lineup for Monday, April 24. While Cole has the entire year’s worth of guest chefs planned out, he doesn’t announce who is cooking until two months before the event. This is to build excitement and anticipation around the dinners, which he also aims toward young professionals who aren’t sure how to give back to the community. “The concept is: it’s just like going to dinner anywhere else on a Monday night. If you had a reservation anywhere else, why not come here? All your money goes towards charity. You get a five course tasting menu with a combination of two awesome restaurants, there’s no pressure,” Cole explains. “There’s no pretense. Nobody is asking you for anything or trying to solicit you. So why not do that, instead of just going to a normal dinner on a Monday night?”
Another reason for making these charitable dinners a regular part of your culinary agenda? The food is downright delicious and Cole is partnering with many of the city’s top chefs. At last month’s dinner, there was delicate flaky pickle-poached pink trout with onion soubise, roasted shellfish with flavorful fregola, poached egg with potato-chip crusted asparagus, short ribs with Jerusalem artichoke puree, and light fluffy lemon-sugar zeppelin with pistachio cream. It’s a memorable and tasty way to try the food of restaurants you may not yet have experienced. Over the past three seasons the Stones Throw team has raised $110K for various charities including Old Skool Cafe, SF/Marin Food Bank, and Ronnie Lott’s non-profit, All Stars Helping Kids. This year Hi Neighbor is donating the proceeds to Meals on Wheels, an organization that provides 1.6 million meals annually. Past chefs that have participated are a who’s who of the Bay Area’s top culinary players including Mark Sullivan of Spruce, Michael Tusk of Quince, and Dominque Crenn of Atelier Creen. Perbacco, Beretta, Lolinda, Mission Chinese Food, and Commonwealth have also been featured.
Cole hopes to line up well-respected chefs from LA and New York in the future. Thomas McNaughton of Flour + Water and James Syhabout of Commis have signed on to cook at upcoming dinners, which, by now, pretty much run like clockwork. “At this point, the one thing we said, this is our fourth year, so it’s easy for us in the sense of planning to say, ‘Okay.’ We don’t stress over it,” Cole says. “Mondays here, okay, well ‘We got this.’ We got the menus. . . There is planning and there’s conference calls and there’s menu planning and there’s wine pairings, so that takes time to put that all together. Drafting up the menus. The hardest part with every event and any event is selling tickets. And the one thing we said was we would keep doing this event as long as we were continuing to sell tickets.” We’re happy to support the restaurant on this extraordinary culinary philanthropic series and encourage you to check out one—or all!—of the future Eat Like a Chef, Drink Like a Somm dinners.