Artisan Underground

Agricultural landscapes and the food they yield inspired Matthew Domingo's culinary-events company.

Two years after founding Farm to Fork, Domingo is moving his interpretation of the eat-local movement underground.

"It's kind of like our take on a restaurant," says the 32-year-old chef. "We really want to tie in the food artisans this year."

Farm to Fork's Artisan Underground series is the first locally to tap into the big-city trend of "pop-up" restaurants. These impromptu eateries open often for just one night in an obscure location, serving diners who find the place usually by invitation. Farm to Fork's first pop-up is planned for today in Jacksonville and will materialize monthly on the first or second Thursday.

"We're just going to give them the address, not really the name of anything," says Domingo, explaining that the venues most likely will be businesses that otherwise aren't open at night.

"It might be at Noble Coffee," he says. "Could be at a bakery."

Ashland-based Noble Coffee Roasting is one of two sponsors Domingo has signed for the Underground series. A specially selected coffee will be served with the meal's dessert course. The first event's planned pairing was Noble's Ethiopian Worka, which has an intense, exotic fruit character, says Noble owner Jared Rennie, with a berries-and-cream-based dish.

The second sponsor, Organic Nation spirits, supports Domingo's vision of Underground as a "culinary speakeasy." Each meal will start with a creative cocktail using Organic Nation gin or vodka. In a format similar to winemaker dinners, Diane Paulson will speak briefly about the spirit manufactured by her Cascade Peak distillery in Ashland.

"It's obviously a discerning group of people who enjoy high cuisine," she says of her customers. "(Domingo)'s already got the group together for us."

Paulson says she thinks Underground will appeal to diners — perhaps younger crowds — who like to take more culinary risks. Domingo promises a retro ambiance that incorporates locally produced artworks and live music. To coincide with Ashland's First Friday art walk, Domingo says he plans to add appetizer and cocktail parties somewhere in town for a reduced price starting in October.

"It seems like it's a little more fun," says Paulson.

It's a carefully constructed experience, however, that delves deeper into all the "nitty-gritty details" of an actual restaurant, including decor, says Domingo. Displaying art for one evening likely will involve stringing up clotheslines or erecting easels hammered together from old ladders, he adds.

The size of the facility will dictate the number of diners, but underground events will be about half the size — with 40 to 60 people — of Farm to Fork's popular on-farm dinners. Domingo says he plans to reveal a theme for each event, along with the proteins and food artisans, such as bakers, cheesemakers or chocolatiers, featured for the evening.

"It will depend on what's at the farmers market that day," he says of the other ingredients.

The per-person cost is lower than other Farm to Fork events, which Domingo says he hopes will attract a younger clientele. Promoting the underground series through online media, including social networking, is a strategy to appeal to diners in their 20s and 30s, he says.

Alternative diets: In addition to organic spirits and coffee; ingredients primarily are locally grown and produced; vegetarian meals available with advance notice only.

Additional beverages: RoxyAnn wines available for purchase by the glass; local beers to be added in the fall.

Price range: $40 to $65 per person, depending on the event, gratuity not included.

Extras: Invitations, with the address for each event, will be emailed the week before. Beginning the day of the event, the location will display an illuminated @ symbol. Finally, guests must give the password at the door.

Serving: Starting at 6:30 p.m. the first or second Thursday or the month.

Info: Sign up at; find the password — good for events all year — on Sarah Lemon's Facebook page,

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