For the third time in its culinary historical past, Springfield has a brand new pop-up restaurant.
Factor is the creation of three younger restaurant-business varieties with excessive hopes.
Branden Dinger and Caleb Stangroom are cooks on the restaurant inside Hotel Vandivort. Ryan Michael is bar manager at Kai, a downtown sushi restaurant.
They got started talking about a pop-up last fall, spending two-and-a-half months developing their first menu. Then they went public with Element by holding a one-off dinner Jan. 24 at downtown’s Wine Dive.
The three young men are bluntly ambitious. Dinger said their long-term goal is to start a standalone restaurant, not just an occasional series of dinners as is typical with pop-up restaurants.
And they would like to put Springfield chefs on the map.
“We want to be the first people from Springfield to win a James Beard Award in the state of Missouri,” Dinger said.
Invoking the name of James Beard — a culinary teacher and food media personality who died in 1985 — is no small thing in the chef community. The James Beard Awards are the Oscars of American food.
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No Springfield chef has earned one, though Wes Johnson of the recently shuttered Metropolitan Farmer got a nomination for his St. Louis restaurant in 2012.
But for the moment, Dinger and his collaborators recognize they’re just getting started. Without prompting, they admit Element isn’t making money yet.
Dinger and Stangroom said they’re grateful that their boss, Zach White — executive chef at the Vandivort’s Order restaurant — is letting them moonlight to perfect their art.
Meanwhile, their creative process is unconventional. When the three plan a menu, they said they don’t start out by thinking about ingredients.
They think about words.
“We draw from a word bank,” Dinger explained.
Once they choose a word or phrase to name each dish on their menu, they start looking at the emotions associated with that word.
Recent examples include “Necessity,” “Humble” and “Sorry Chef.”
From there, they figure out a flavor profile.
For example, “Sorry Chef” was the fifth course at their Jan. 24 dinner. It was a wintry plate featuring pork dry-aged for 39 days, served with torched carrots, apple chips, spiced parsnip puree and smoked apple gastrique — a syrupy sauce blending sweet and sour notes.
It also had its own story line. They called it “Sorry Chef” because two of their chef mentors told them the dish wouldn’t work, Stangroom said.
One chef said that pork should never age past…