Friday, June 8, 2012 , Updated 10:00 a.m., June 22, 2012
Frank Underground pop-up reunites MasterChefs Ben Starr and Jennie Kelley
Rock star and TV star return for another dining collaboration.
DALLAS In 2011, two Dallas-area contestants made it on to MasterChef with Gordon Ramsay: Lewisville writer Ben Starr and Jennie Kelley, a food stylist and member of Polyphonic Spree. The two not only prospered on TV -- Starr lasted nearly to the end of the show and built a following of devout fans -- they also forged a fast friendship which they maintained after the show was over.
This year, they've partnered up on a pop-up restaurant concept called Frank Underground, which premiered in late April. The second event is on Saturday and is already sold out -- no surprise as there are only 18 seats. But that is how the duo has to keep it for now, said Kelley.
"Our schedules are very different which has made it a little crazy to pull this together," she said. "Ben and I are both free spirits who travel quite a bit. Ben has been on a long tour to the West Coast, and I just got home from a tour with Polyphonic Spree. But we keep jumping in the deep end."
Kelley said she'd wanted to do a pop-up restaurant for a long time, but couldn't handle doing it alone.
"Whenever I would talk about it, people would say it was was a great idea, but I knew I needed help," she said. "Over the holidays, Ben and I were talking about the fact that neither of us have a desire to open our own restaurants or be a chef-chef but we wanted to cook. He said, "I'll do it with you'."
The event is like a dinner party held by two colorful, well-traveled hosts who serve a multi-course meal with wine, beer, or cocktails, sharing recipes, techniques, and tales from the road. You're seated at a communal table made from reclaimed wood Starr found himself, and some of the ingredients come from Starr's own garden.
"I'm a food stylist by profession, I love shopping for food, and I was at the store, texting him, 'Do you have this and this?'" Kelley said. "He said, 'I think this has bloomed but I'm not sure."
The name Frank reflects their desire to keep it as intimate and informal as possible.
"There's no valet, no hostess, we make our guests sit across the table from each other," Kelley said. "We make everything from scratch. Ben makes homemade bread, and I make homemade butter. We do it as a labor of love -- we want people to come together."
For now, it's held in a loft, but they envision taking that table and placing it on a rooftop or in an empty warehouse, where they can possibly expand the guest list beyond a party of 18.
Their next event is June 23, and they intend to do two per month. To get access to tickets, they recommend signing up for their guest list. They post an update on their Facebook page alerting fans that an email will be sent out in the next 24 hours. It's usually a week or so in advance of each dinner party, with a suggested donation to help cover the cost of ingredients and hints about the evening’s menu. Both events have sold out in 5 minutes.
"We like it to be as intimate as possible, where you get to meet people and talk with each other," she said.