There’s no existing model for the wide range of culinary experiences Eric Rivera is cooking up at his private dining venue Addo in the former of Crush on 23rd and Madison. He’s making it up as he goes along, and a glance at Addo’s upcoming meal calendar reveals Rivera’s freewheeling, globetrotting approach to pop-up dining: a seven-course family-style seafood dinner ($65), a traditional Japanese brunch ($35), a gourmet homage to Dick’s Drive-In called the “Richard Burger” ($17, includes fries and special sauce). To accurately describe what Rivera is up to, one must resort to the terminology of the tech industry: It’s an incubator, a beta testing laboratory, a gastronomic version of Netflix.
“I’m always trying to work 60 to 90 days out, plugging in awesome ideas that I think will sell—and then some weird ones,” he says, “When I run out of ideas or get stuck with ‘writers block,’ that’s when I reach out to people to collaborate.”
Rivera has teamed up on pop-ups with nationally acclaimed chefs like Shota Nakajima and Grant Achatz. He also works with new talent through Addo’s incubator program, a 90-day test run that gives fledgling chefs an opportunity to ply their craft at the highest levels in which Rivera serves as a sounding board on feasibility, branding, and business models to help take their food concept to the next level. In addition, he offers intensive, small-group cooking classes on techniques like pickling and fermenting.
“It’s all about the confidence it gives them,” Rivera says, “I’ve worked with people all around the world at the highest levels of restaurants and one of the most important things is having that confidence in your own stuff. That’s what I’m trying to instill in people, and to give them a place where they can do it.”
Addo is currently putting the former home of Crush to use as a food and drink space again following the 2015 closure of the Jason Wilson restaurant.
By providing a central base of operations and reaching out to peers and upstarts for inspiration and cross-disciplinary collaboration, Rivera has created a space for world class food experimentation that changes daily. His command of kitchen logistics, garnered from working for such culinary institutions as Chicago’s Michelin-three-starred Alinea and the Pacific Northwest’s Huxley Wallace Collective, give him the confidence to go out on a limb and get playful with the ingredients. It’s not uncommon for him to prepare an entirely different menu every night of the week.
“If we’re gonna run salmon Wednesday through Sunday, it doesn’t mean I have to cook it all the same way. I can do anything to it! I can make a puree or a soup or even freeze-dry the damn thing! I can order one thing and manipulate it 20 different ways. Or not! I can just put salt, pepper, and lemon on it!”
When asked about near-future plans Rivera enthusiastically spins off a half-dozen projects: a series of specialized menus for allergies and aversions (keto, gluten-free, vegan) an upcoming Planned Parenthood benefit dinner, a local breadmaker he’s excited about, and Lechoncito, a Puerto Rican restaurant he hopes to plant on Capitol Hill sometime this year with a menu he’s already workshopped in pop-up form through Addo. The incubator/beta lab/restaurant he has built is spinning off in multiple directions and that’s how Rivera likes it.
“It’s just a matter of catching the attention of the diner. Everyone’s so focused on what‘s new, so I’m bringing that. People come and they know it’s gonna be different. It puts pressure on me to keep it new and fun and exciting.”
Addo does its thing at 2319 E Madison. Dinners are booked up through April but there are plenty of upcoming benefits and pop-ups on the schedule. You can learn more at ericriveracooks.com/addo.