Chefs David Lanster and Kelly Moran want their lavish dinners to do more than merely satisfy your hunger; they want to make you think.
The college freshmen founded DK Culinary Ventures in 2013 while juniors at Ransom Everglades to pursue their passion for fine cuisine and to start conversations about issues revolving around food and culture.
“We try to create an experience and see our dinners as a way of talking about a lot of different issues,” said Lanster, who is studying biochemistry and molecular biology at University of Miami. “By establishing our reputation as chefs we hope to have a much broader impact than just cooking food.”
They started small, serving multi-course dinners in Lanster’s parents’ dining room to friends and family. But as interest in their undertaking grew, so did their ambitions.
During the next three years, DK Culinary Ventures unveiled three separate and increasingly elaborate ventures — “A Modern Taste of Italy,” a collaboration with Trattoria Luna chef Daniel Mastagni; “Bake Your Day,” a special-order baking endeavor focusing on inventive pastries like Limoncello cake pops and lavender whoopee pies, and “Delicious Donations,” which raised more than $8,000 for Common Threads, a Chicago-based nonprofit which teaches cooking and lifestyle skills to underserved children.
Their next project, “Axis,” running from May to June, will feature dishes that focus on scientific ideas influenced by Lanster’s chemistry studies such as the playfully clever “This is Not a Strawberry,” in which diners are served a strawberry, accompanied by a list of its chemical compounds.
“It is meant to challenge our concepts of what GMOs are, what we’re eating,” said Moran, who is pursuing a degree in international relations at Tufts University. “We get a variety of responses from that. Some think it’s great; others laugh at us. But just seeing so many different reactions makes it more a piece of art than some of our other dishes.”
Locations for their “Axis” dinner series include Coral Gables Merrick House, Soho Beach House, LAB Miami, Miami Beach Botanical Gardens, Locust Projects and Deering Estate. Dinners serve 18 guests per night and include up to 16 courses. Ticket costs vary depending on location, but are expected to range from $100 to $165 per person.
While the initial allure of a DK Culinary Ventures dining experience is certainly the meals, Lanster and Moran place an enormous emphasis on hospitality and high-end service. To accommodate their ambitious enterprise, they employ a service and kitchen team of recent Ransom Everglades and Miami Country Day School graduates.
Their parents are involved as well. David’s parents, Rochelle and Steve Lanster, and Kelly’s dad, Mike Moran, are supportive of each endeavor.
“We have more staff per person than you’d usually find at most restaurants and they know the ins and outs of the ingredients, recipes and scientific techniques that we use,” Lanster said. “We train them to basically be able to answer any questions you have and to encourage discussions that we try to bring up. We’re really trying to create an experience more than just food on a plate.”
For more information or to purchase a ticket for “Axis,” visit DKCulinaryVentures.com.