Nevin Martell—food & travel writer, father, and photographer—is known for his self-described “harebrained schemes”. The difference between his outlandish plots and those of others is that he pursues most of them. And they turn into outlandish successes. For example, the weirdly catching idea of “Blazed and Glazed” was a joke made on Facebook about a donut shop that turned into a one-day cooking with cannabis event. Or Pay It Furloughed, a concept allowing people to donate a beer to furloughed workers, which swept the nation. No surprise that Martell’s foodie-event—New Kitchens on The Block (NKOTB)—is now hosting its fifth round in three years.
“[The event] is based on the premise that everyone wants what they cannot have.” Pretty simple. NKOTB allows you to try food from hotly anticipated D.C. restaurants before anybody else. “You can’t get into a restaurant that hasn’t opened yet,” Martell explains. “It’s a great interest for foodies but also for the restaurant industry in D.C.”
If you’re thinking that the participants are small fry looking for a little help in the press department prior to opening, think again. NKOTB has been known for picking not just the rising stars but the shooting stars of the D.C. food scene, including nationally-recognized hotspots like Maydan and Spoken English along with local beloveds like Kaliwa, Lucky Buns, and Call Your Mother Deli. This year promises to be no different.
“This iteration, we had the pick of the litter in terms of high-profile openings,” Martell says proudly. “It’s hard to say no to someone that has a Michelin Star or a Rammy Award when you’re putting together these lineups. But we also want to include a few people that we’re just helping. We’re excited to support them as they take the next steps in their businesses.”
This round of NKOTB will host chefs like Kevin Tien (Himitsu, Hot Lola’s), Amy Brandwein (Centrolina), Nicholas Stefanelli (Masseria), and Kyle Bailey (The Salt Line) among many other notables. Yes, they all already have restaurants. Yes, they’re opening more.
“It’s super foodie focused,” describes Martell. “I do outreach based on what I’m excited about and what other people are or could be excited about.”
Like every big-ideas person, Martell has a partner in crime that puts thought into extremely effective action. Enter Al Goldberg, founder of Mess Hall—an established culinary incubator in D.C. that supports food entrepreneurs through mentoring, business services, and kitchen space. Aside from being good friends with Martell (which often involves being very patient with while helping to carry out all of the aforementioned harebrained schemes), Goldberg is the ideal partner for NKOTB, having helped to accelerate over 100 food-based businesses to date.
“As you can tell, Nevin is an ideas guy,” Goldberg laughs. “And since I run Mess Hall, I know the kitchen facility has to turn into real life stuff.”
The event’s purpose would be inauthentic if chefs couldn’t accurately represent their restaurant’s concept. Take for example Amy Brandwein’s new venture, Piccolina, which will specialize in wood-fired breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
“We don’t have that type of oven here,” Goldberg states. “But we were able to secure one for her to feel good about participating. We made it happen.”
Other such challenges include securing a specific wok burner with a special type of gas flame that will allow for an authentic Sapporo Style ramen dish from Hatoba, an endeavor by Chef Katsuya Fukushima.
“We build on these things each time,” describes Goldberg. “We need to accommodate equipment requests and fees, fire code, health department standards, and what the facility can handle while still having guests come in and enjoy the event as an interactive experience. The facility has to work. The space has to look great. We have to maintain ADA accessibility.”
The bigger and more involved the event gets, the more trials Goldberg has to overcome.
“Typically, most events have chefs serving something out of chafing dishes or tiny burners on table tops. We’ve got a brick oven and wok range kicking out 95,000 BTUs which you can only see in commercial kitchens.”
Tickets for this year’s NKOTB event sold out within less than 48 hours but those interested can get on a waitlist here. And for those who can’t wait to hear more about the tremendous lineup, Un-Plated will be providing in-depth feature interviews.