A Marriage of the Minds
Creative types produce The Special Projects pop-up dinners
Written by: Emily Reynolds Stringer
Photography by: Xelina Flores-Chasnoff
Many of us can relate; planning a wedding is an absolute hair-pulling task. While the allure of the perfect white dress beckons, many stressors rise like Mount Rushmore in the background. Does your jaw tighten at the thought of where to seat the relatives you haven’t seen in years? How about creating a set-list for the band to play your favorite ‘80s tunes, or the bridesmaids loving their you-can-wear-this-again dresses? And let’s not forget the food. We yearn for our guests to rave about how un-wedding our Chicken Oscar tastes, right? Our spectrum of hopes ranges from marrying the love of our lives to pleasing our mothers.
If you’re Tim McDiarmid, owner of Tim-The-Girl Catering, planning a wedding is a monthly event. No, she’s not clinically insane, nor is she a wedding planner. Rather, McDiarmid is the wildly creative catalyst to a monthly marriage of the minds.
She is one of the visionaries behind San Antonio’s premier pop-up dining experience, The Special Projects Social. Although pop-up dining is very chic in cities like Los Angeles and New York, you’re not alone if you have no clue what a pop-up restaurant is. Basically, for $100 you buy a ticket for a sit-down dinner at an undisclosed location. Then 24 hours before you are due to arrive, you find out where you will be dining via email. All you do is show up, and everything, even the unique artisan plate that you dine on, is included.
Yet apart from the slew of other pop-up experiences around the country, The Special Projects is more than a meal. “We have created a homespun web of talent,” McDiarmid comments. The Special Projects is a collaborative gathering of talented artists combining forces to create an evening of escape. It is the most blissful, stress-free wedding you’ve never attended. You will be welcomed with cocktails, beer and wine from a Texas provider. At last month’s event our eyes were tickled with local art peppering the walls, homemade wooden tables, a vivacious fashion expo and handcrafted dinnerware. Our tastes were delighted with hors d’oeuvres made by Partridge in a Pie Tree, a seasonally savvy dinner crafted by Tim-The-Girl (McDiarmid) and desserts made by Ayons Bakery. A talented musical duo enlivened our ears.
One guest commented, “These are the fascinating people you never imagined lived right here in San Antonio.” McDiarmid explains, “What I kill myself doing is getting people to work together who may never do so in any other circumstance.” It’s a chance to get out of your comfort bubble and step into a world inspired by Tim’s vibrant cohesive vision, all while enjoying a delicious artisan meal.
Currently there are only 50 tickets sold for each event. Although The Special Projects has gained much popularity, the vision remains to keep the events intimate despite demands for more seating. Juggling 50 hungry guests is not the only thing on McDiarmid’s plate. She is also the founder of Eat Smart, a local nonprofit that teaches healthy eating habits. And she is teaching cooking classes, catering private parties and planning a culinary adventure to Italy this summer.
McDiarmid’s culinary roots go back to her family farm in Vancouver, Canada. “I grew up picking food from my backyard and learning how to make it taste amazing from my mother,” she comments. She moved to New York City, where she spent 17 years refining her culinary technique and honing her palate. “I rarely rely on recipes, but rather I become inspired by the ingredients themselves,” she says. Her culinary influences are global. Yet her travels and city dwellings have fashioned a woman who is a wholesome ingredient chef. McDiarmid comments, “Greece, Turkey, Portugal, Spain and Morocco influence me heavily. I only work with fresh ingredients. Fresh is more than a buzz word to me, it is a necessity.”
McDiarmid landed in San Antonio in 2009, searching for a great school for her son. Her co-operative personality found solace at The Circle School. She enrolled her son in the school and began to volunteer with her free time. She met Peter Zubiate while rebuilding a fence for the school. In 2011 this duo created Special Projects, and last month’s event was the pop-up’s one-year anniversary. They wanted to intermingle Peter’s woodworking skills with Tim’s culinary talent. Zubiate crafts the beautiful pecan wood tables showcased at each event. These long, beautiful tables are made by hand from refurbished wood found on the River Walk. McDiarmid adorns the woodwork with farm-fresh foods, creating a welcoming centerpiece for the evening. Peter adds, “Tim and I have similar ideas about work and getting things done. We never say no to any crazy idea, but we may rein each other in when needed.”
The Special Projects is painting San Antonio red with a bottle of merlot. Whether you’re a refined foodie or you yearn to expand your artistic horizons, you will be in good company if you can get your hands on a ticket. The next pop-up will be a charity event to support The Circle School.