After he was laid off from his finance job at Morgan Stanley, Allen Bari became a professional poker player. One night about eight years ago, he took a break from the tables in Atlantic City to attend a cooking class at the Viking Cooking School.
“I was dragged, essentially,” he says. “I wasn’t really looking forward to it, but then I had the best night ever. Just everything about the experience — the food, the wine. It was really exciting. Then I started taking more and more cooking classes.”
Bari realized that the places that offer cooking classes typically are limited to doing just that. He wanted more. Maybe a pop-up kitchen that would allow for a fun night out and team-building exercises, where amateurs could cook like pros.
In 2014, the gambler, now 35, and his wife, Allison, 32, went all-in, opening Hudson Table near their home in Hoboken, N.J.
Hudson Table offers hands-on classes at a chef’s table with counter seating, reservation-only dinners, and competitions, where two chefs — each working out of a fully outfitted work station — go head to head, allowing customers to judge.
This week, Hudson Table comes to Philadelphia with a location at the Piazza in Northern Liberties, taking a never-occupied space at 1001 N. Second St., next to the catering venue Tendenza. (The closest things to this concept in Philadelphia are the smaller La Cucina at the Market and Audrey Claire Cook.)
Allen Bari said the Piazza location — which seats 18 at the counter plus many more at tables in the roomy, high-ceilinged space — will take advantage of the tall windows, just as it does in Hoboken. “People walk past and they’re like, ‘Oh, what’s that?’”
Hudson Table’s staple is the plated dinner. “It’s almost like a unique restaurant every night,” Bari says — four courses: a salad or appetizer for everyone, a choice of two starches, a protein, and a dessert.
The plated dinner is a hybrid of catering and restaurant. Because dinners are ordered in advance, “there’s no food waste,” Bari says. "Everything is purchased as needed. We’ve been doing two seatings for that and at the end of the night, whatever is left, we’re like, ‘Does anyone want some extra duck to take, if you didn’t get to try it?’”
The Baris hired three chef-instructors — Benjamin Flesch, Ashleigh Germond, and Chris Galbraith, all of whom have restaurant jobs — to lead classes and cook the dinners. “Basically the last step of the interview is them cooking any dish they want,” Bari says. "They were some of the best tastings we’ve had. Honestly, the talent in Philly has been insane.”
The U-shaped kitchen is outfitted with top-of-the-line residential-grade equipment “because we don’t want to have restaurant equipment where people are like, ‘I can’t do this at home,’” Bari says.
Since signing the Piazza lease three years ago, the Baris have been scouting the Philadelphia food scene. “All the food here has been phenomenal,” he said. “The hospitality of everyone when we tell them we’re opening is like nothing I’ve ever seen. In Hoboken, they don’t even care, but here they’re like, ‘Oh, here’s free dessert. Here’s free drinks.’”
The first class, handmade pasta with Germond, is set for daytime on Saturday, Feb. 1.