Taking the pop-up dinner to new heights with vegan menu

Pop-up dinners have been something of a cottage industry in Sacramento in recent years, with chefs of all kinds hosting small gatherings for adventurous diners eager to experience new and exciting ideas in food.

Amid all the modernist, cutting-edge or old-school menus I’ve seen, I have not heard of a high-end vegan pop-up dinner in these parts – until now. Sylvanna Mislang, who most recently worked in the kitchen at the much-admired but now sadly departed Blackbird, is about to blaze a new path.

She’s planning to push the boundaries and exceed expectations with an ambitious five-course vegan dinner this Saturday at a secret location.

The price is $70, and it’s BYOB, so expectations will understandably be high, especially since no animal products of any kind will be used.

I caught up with “Chef Syl” on Tuesday to learn more about her, her work and, most importantly, her plans for this dinner.

Turns out that in addition to cheffing, Mislang has worked at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op the past nine years and currently works in the produce department. That gives her a first-hand look at the best organic produce in the region, and she has had plenty of time to dream about the magic she wants to create with it.

“That’s a bit of the inspiration for this – what can I do with those products that I see in raw form every day,” she told me. “My approach is pretty much clean and a lot of flavors, whether it be bold or subtle. I want to just surprise you.”

Although Mislang is not a vegan, she says she lives in a vegan household and is a strong proponent of ethical eating. A big part of that is knowing where your food comes from.

In that spirit, she is working directly with a small urban farm in Fair Oaks called Rocking TH to grow her food. Sometime prior to the dinner, the chef herself will visit the farm and gather up her own all-organic produce, underscoring the farm-to-fork ethos that has become both a movement and a marketing slogan for the local restaurant scene.

“This is a farm-to-fork conception,” Mislang said. “I’m actually going there and actually harvesting the food and then producing something for everybody. It’s quite exciting.”

And what will she be producing?

“Just trying to come up with something that would amaze the palate and something that’s not boring. You don’t want salads or bean burgers. You want something that would excite the person enough to want more,” she said. “You eat with your eyes first – I want color and I want seasonal and I want the customers to say, ‘Wow this is amazing.’”

In Blackbird’s final months (it closed suddenly about six weeks ago), Mislang was tasked with creating a daily vegan dish. She also said she was inspired by executive chef Kevin O’Connor, who left Blackbird and returned to his roots doing private multi-course dinners under the banner “Tree House.”

Mislang attended one of them and was so impressed she wanted to do a pop-up series that’s entirely vegan. It’s worth noting that you need not be a vegan to enjoy vegan cooking. All it takes is an open mind, a willing palate and an eagerness to be entertained by the many possibilities food gives us. You also have to be OK with the idea that meat doesn’t have to be the focal point in the composition of a dish.

It’s impressive that Mislang is trying something bold like this. If you want to see the local food scene continue to flourish and diversify, this is the kind of dinner worth supporting. Don’t let the price scare you away. Consider it a celebration of what Sacramento can be as a true farm-to-fork leader, and from what I have heard from a reliable source, the chef’s food can be dazzling.

For tickets or for more information, click here. The event is BYOB and the location will be revealed to ticket holders on the day of the event. To read more about Chef Syl, go to her new website, which is still in development.