Goodman Community Center pop-up dinner

Goodman Community Center's February pop-up dinner featured Chef Tory Miller.

Goodman Community Center’s pop-up dinners are a lot of work. With the help of celebrated chefs around town, teens help create a menu, prep and serve a crowded community meal.

At the end of a recent pop-up featuring chef Dan Bonanno from A Pig in a Fur Coat, Jon Lica, organizer of the event, was exhausted. He spotted one of the kids still smiling with “a little bounce in his step.”

“How are you not tired? I’m dragging,” Lica asked him.

“I’m just having fun,” the teen replied.

That’s one of the things Lica, corporate giving manager at Goodman, loves about Goodman’s regular pop-up dinners. They’re a chance for kids to learn, but they’re also fun for the teens and diners alike.

On Tuesday, April 2, Goodman will host its last pop-up dinner of the season. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for kids, and are available for 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. seatings at the Brassworks Building, 214 Waubesa St. Tickets can be purchased online or at Goodman's front desk. 

The pop-up dinners started in March 2016 with Fresco executive chef Chris Myers partnering with the kids to serve tacos. That one was “quite chaotic and rather disorganized,” Lica said. They had sold about 40 tickets but about 150 people showed up.

“Honestly, I owe Chris a tremendous amount of gratitude for paving the way for us,” Lica said. Myers spent a lot of time with Goodman after the event helping them put systems in place for future dinners.

Goodman has now refined the process, and the dinners have continued to draw crowds. Some people make a point to come to all three each winter, Lica said.

Francesca Hong, chef at Morris Ramen, took the lead for the April dinner, with help from chef Molly Maciejewski from Madison Sourdough. The two met with students to create “one of the more adventurous menus” Goodman has served to date, Lica said.

The first course will be a “kimchi tartine” featuring scallion cream cheese, cucumber and microgreens on Madison Sourdough bread. The main course is braised pork belly or fried tofu with chilled sesame noodles, smoked carrots and radishes.

Vegetables will come from two Wisconsin farms, Garden To Be and Driftless Organics, and the pork belly is from Ney’s Big Sky in Slinger.

Lica said he’s most intrigued by the last course, a black sesame Rice Krispie treat with toasted sesame seeds and togarashi, a Japanese spice blend.

Learning about new or unfamiliar foods gets the kids “fired up,” Lica said.

“It’s exciting to have something a little less traditional and combining some flavors and styles of cuisine,” Lica said.

All the profits for the event go to Goodman’s TEENworks program, which offers employment opportunities for youth with barriers to employment, Lica said. The program offers vocational training, with one pathway in culinary arts. Students can earn ServSafe food safety training certifications, gain experience working at Goodman catering events and make connections with Goodman staff to gain references, Lica said.

Kids who sign up to work the pop-up dinners “work at least 10 hours they wouldn’t normally otherwise” alongside “really prestigious chefs in the Madison area,” Lica said. Plus, with the pop-up dinners, teens get a chance to interact with their assigned tables, and get a chance to “kind of let their personalities shine,” he said.

“I have a whole pile full of comment cards,” Lica said. “It seems like one of the things people love the most is interacting with the young people who are serving at their tables.”

Sign up for Cap Times newsletters:


Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.