Figuring out what you want to do with your life is hard. For Danielle Bell and Pablo Osorio — the masterminds behind de Porres, a Brooklyn-born, LA-based dinner series that’s quickly establishing a die-hard following — it took meeting each other to finally crack the code. Now, together, they’ve found a way to combine their eclectic tastes and points of view into a distinctive, ever-changing eating experience that has guests lining up. Most importantly, they finally feel like they’ve arrived in the place they’re supposed to be.
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When the pair met, Peruvian-born Osorio had a career working in restaurants in New York City, and while he knew he had talent, he was sometimes frustrated that he was always operating on other people’s terms. Meanwhile, Bell was nearing the end of her twenties and was feeling directionless. She’d spent her post-college years in part-time jobs that gave her the flexibility to focus on things she loved — writing and traveling the world — but wondered if she’d ever be able to take her passions and use them to make a sustainable life for herself. One thing she knew was that she didn’t want to have to make compromises. “I had this constant fear that I was wasting my life,” she now says. “I wanted to find a way to make all my experiences count. And I wanted to figure out what I was really good at.”
The answer snuck up on both her and Osorio after they’d been dating for several months. Although their shared love of food — both cooking it and eating it — was something the couple had bonded over from the beginning, it had never occurred to them to try to make it into something bigger. After awhile, though, it finally dawned on them: the dinner parties they were regularly hosting for friends had become a central part of their life and relationship. It was more than a hobby. The idea for de Porres began to bounce around in their heads.
The premise was fairly simple: They would host a monthly dinner series that would allow Osorio to show off his cooking, with his own menus, and on his own terms. With Danielle’s creativity and ingenuity — not to mention her knack for baking — they would create an intimate, restaurant-quality dining experience with all the the energy of the dinner parties they threw for their friends.
As with anything, success wasn’t as simple as having an idea and going with it. For one thing, they were in New York City, where spaces big enough to throw dinner parties aren’t easy to come by. Undaunted, when the couple decided to move in together, they made it a priority to find a place where they could host the type of events they were envisioning. Somehow, they pulled it off, and managed to find a spacious apartment in a relatively out-of-the-way section of Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood.
“It had this beautiful dining room with pressed-tin ceilings and amazing light,” Bell says. “And was big enough— barely. The kitchen was tiny, of course, but I knew Pablo would be able to figure it out.” With that, de Porres, was officially born, with Osorio serving as the chef and Bell managing the guest list, creating the wine and cocktail pairings, and cooking up unfussy desserts inspired by her Louisville background.
For their first dinner, held in February 2012, they invited their closest friends, and charged a minimal fee — just enough to cover the cost of supplies. It was a hit. So they did it again. And again. Soon, word spread, and people were clamoring for a seat at the table, which — mostly by word of mouth — began to gain a reputation as a laid-back alternative to New York City’s sometimes forbidding dining scene. (Bell and Osorio share a healthy disdain for the pretension they sometimes see in the food world. “I couldn’t care less about trendy food culture,” Osorio says. “It’s all really boring and the same.”)
While Osorio is the chef and the primary force in the kitchen, Bell is a natural hostess for the events, and knows that while the focus always has to be on the food, there are other factors that help make a perfect table. “Diversity is really important,” she says. “And I don’t just mean diversity in the usual way. I like it when we can put together a guest list of people who would never normally find themselves in the same room under other circumstances. It’s boring when you have a table full of people who all work in the same industry. I hate it when people try to network — it just isn’t fun. The best is when you have people from totally different worlds, talking to each other about things other than work.” (These days, a typical de Porres might feature writers, artists, and even a famous psychic or two — “Urban Shaman” Mama Donna has been known to make appearances.)
But despite their building success, both Bell and Osorio were still restless, and weren’t satisfied just to stick with the formula they’d established. “It was a really hard winter,” Bell says. “And we had gone out to LA, just to visit, and thrown a couple of events that went really well. It really seemed like people were enthusiastic about what we were doing. We looked at the kinds of spaces that were available out there, and the quality of the food and produce – and when we came back to New York, which was freezing cold and miserable. We just decided it was time for a change. So we did it.”
It’s the kind of headlong leap that the two specialize in, and it wasn’t long before they found themselves packing up their stuff, renting a car, and traveling cross-country to Los Angeles without a concrete plan in mind except that it was time for de Porres to head west.
For now, they’re still adjusting to the move — Bell bemoans Californians’ enthusiasm for “creative” dietary restrictions — but the advantages of LA are undeniable. “I get a lot of inspiration from the market itself out here,” Osorio says. “it’s more diverse all year round, and we’re able to use more local citrus, fruits, peppers, herbs — stuff like that. I just found this hot pepper in the market the other day called manzano, which is a close relative to a Peruvian pepper called roccoto. I’ve been using it for ceviches and tiraditos. You come across new things like that all the time.”
They’ve also been consistently happy with the positive response they’ve been greeted with by LA eaters. “Every time we’ve hosted a de Porres, someone comes up to me afterward and tells me they’d love it if we did one in their house, too,” Bell says. “In New York, so few people had a place to do it in. In California, we keep finding these amazing spaces. There’s room here.”
Still, both have the kind of wanderlust that makes them doubt that LA will be a permanent home. Their ultimate plan: bring de Porres back to the hemisphere where it was (kind of) born. “We want to do one in Peru,” Osorio says.
“We want to go everywhere,” Bell adds with a laugh.
Bennett Madison is the author of September Girls (HarperCollins, 2009) and several other novels.
Photos by Kana Togashi