Monday, June 25 , 2018, 1:33 am | Overcast 63º

 
 
 
 

Business

Santa Barbara High Graduate Cooks Up Underground Supper Club Paladar

Cravings for tasty alternatives to college fare serves as the motivation behind the Los Angeles-based culinary venture

Many college students have tolerated mediocre campus cuisine, but not everyone has profited from it.

Alex Chang, a Santa Barbara High School graduate and founder of the Paladar underground supper club, says his travels as a child helped shape his culinary creativity.
Alex Chang, a Santa Barbara High School graduate and founder of the Paladar underground supper club, says his travels as a child helped shape his culinary creativity. (Jaimie Milner photo)

USC graduate Alex Chang and his roommate weren’t impressed with the food around campus, so they opened an underground supper club in their three-bedroom apartment in downtown Los Angeles.

“The food is unbelievably bad around USC; there’s no good place go to,” Chang said. “We would spend $16 on bad Italian takeout that we could’ve made with our eyes closed. We were pretty novice cooks, but we thought if we can cook something that tastes similar to what mom could cook at home it would be killer.”

But it was a long road for the self-taught chef from Hong Kong. After moving from Hong Kong to the East Coast, the 11-year-old Chang, his older sister and his mother moved to Santa Barbara. Chang said his travels helped shape his culinary creativity.

“Even though there were a lot of negative aspects, there were positive things I found,” the Santa Barbara High School graduate said. “Visiting my dad in Tokyo had been an eye-opening experience in terms of food.”

Before moving to USC, Chang said he had no idea how to get around a kitchen. Los Angeles eateries piqued his curiosity.

“When I moved to L.A., I was having a lot of good meals and all these different kinds of food were blowing my mind,” Chang said. “Cooking was something I went crazy about. I started reading a lot of cookbooks and cooked as much as possible.”

With six wooden tables, scavenged chairs, dinnerware and a “homey” living room, the underground supper club Paladar was born.

Chang and Paladar frontman Robert Kronfli started with a 12-person dinner with friends in December 2009. Whether it was a spin on the traditional burger, or more exotic hiramasa crudo and yellowtail over smoked gazpacho, it was a hit.

By May of this year, it blew up into two 30-person seatings every Thursday night, private parties and an email list of 1,000. Chang said the 60-plus reservation capacity at $15 a person filled up in 10 minutes.

“Sometimes Monday or Tuesday we would have a lot of school work and be worrying about the 65 people reserved for Paladar on Thursday,” Kronfli said. “It was a grind between school, Paladar and our social life. We were just all over the place. But looking back we couldn’t asked for more out of college.”

Paladar was never shut down, but the possibility was always in the back of Chang’s and Kronfli’s minds. While a representative from the Los Angeles County Department of Environmental Health said an operation such as Chang’s wasn’t exactly legal without proper licensing, it’s a gray area.

“It could absolutely be kept under wraps if the property is fairly large and no one complains or gets sick,” the representative told Noozhawk.

Chang said some supper parties can claim they are having friends over and that the donations aren’t mandatory to avoid punishment.

“If they come in and say you have to shut down, we would shut down right away,” Kronfli said. “We are technically charging for a service that provides cooking out of an apartment that’s not up to regulation, but officials have bigger fish to fry than college kids cooking out of an apartment.”

There are hundreds of underground supper parties in the United States, including Isaiah Frizzell’s traveling Pheast in Los Angeles. He said chefs can experiment with different recipes, and their underground mystique keeps people coming back.

“People are just looking for novelty. They are tired of seeing the same restaurant and the same staple foods,” Frizzell said. “People are open to new social situations and a friendly network of people.”

Chang and Kronfli say they will continue to run Paladar in various locations between their full-time jobs in the restaurant business. A documentary on Paladar is set to debut this month, and Chang and Kronfli recently held a benefit meal in Santa Barbara to help raise money for the project.

It doesn’t seem there’s much secrecy left in the underground business, but Chang wouldn’t change a thing.

“It defined my college career,” he said.

Noozhawk business writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >

Meet Your Realtor Sponsored by Village Properties

Photo of Cimme Eordanidis
Cimme Eordanidis
"Since I truly enjoy doing what I do, interacting with people and representing them during one of life's most exciting events is very rewarding."

Full Profile >