Ask attendees to describe Chef Dave Hulin’s new series of experiential workshops Beyond the Glass, and you’re likely to get several different answers. It’s about building a sculpture on top of your Bloody Mary. Or, is it about creating the perfect fusion of tastes? Maybe it’s more about seeing cuisine in a different way. Wait, what about the colors? And the Instagram-worthiness of it all!
The fact is, these events are all of those things, and more. Dave Hulin, owner and face behind Cajun180 seasonings, envisioned an experience where participants would walk away feeling as though they’d witnessed something truly unique. He wanted to demonstrate, enlighten, teach and entertain. Beyond the Glass (and offshoot workshop Palette to Plate), although still in its early stages, has emerged as a must-see event packed with thoughtful planning and creativity.
To know the chef is to better understand his workshops. In fact, the characteristics found in his events – cuisine, artistry, showmanship – can also be found in his bloodline and in his own personality. Born and raised in Morgan City, Hulin was in his 30s before he knew his father’s side of the family. But upon meeting them and already knowing family on his mother’s side – cooks, chefs, entertainers, artists – he realized he comes by his passions honestly.
“My childhood dream was to open my own restaurant,” he says. From
an early age, he had already picked out a dilapidated, architecturally- interesting building in Morgan City. He did the research. He made plans. And he dreamed. In the meantime, he showed talent and interest in art, so when it came time to select a college, he chose the Art Institute of Dallas. Working toward a degree in visual arts and graphic communications, he recalls a color theory class, where he had an epiphany. “One of my projects was to design a menu. I wanted to see if I could create something visually appealing to the masses that would get them to order something they wouldn’t ordinarily.” As he hand painted his hypothetical dishes and designed the page for maximum aesthetics and persuasion, he discovered the powerful connection between art and cuisine.
The Painted Plate was what he was going to name his restaurant. He envisioned a high-end dining area for adults and another area for kids, where they would literally paint
on plates and take them home as souvenirs. But life happened. He got married and had a child, which forced him to latch on to a more tangible dream. He joined the Coast Guard and became a physical fitness instructor, learning about dietetics, kinetics and weight management along the way. Meanwhile Hulin’s father had diabetes and hypertension, his mom had diverticulitis, and his sister had cancer, so cooking at gatherings became a challenge. His background in Creole and Cajun food, combined with training in physical fitness, gelled into a desire to show people that South Louisiana foods don’t have to be unhealthy. As a result, he developed Cajun180: his own line of nine healthy seasonings currently in 200 retail locations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Beyond the Seasonings
The Facebook page for Hulin’s Beyond the Glass concept describes it as a “Create, Drink & Eat Event.” While the workshops are not directly related to Hulin’s Cajun180 brand, he understandably uses his seasonings in all of them. What most don’t know is that the events began with a much different purpose. “Beyond the Glass is really a soft opening, and potentially a stand-alone show with its own LLC, for a live cooking show by Chef Dave,” Hulin reveals.
The concept of a travelling demonstration that touches (and celebrates) every city along the Teche has been several years in the making, but was delayed due to COVID. While passing time at home during the shutdown, Hulin was experimenting with a Bloody Mary, building a full meal – really, a piece of art – on top of it. When he posted photos on social media, it created an immediate buzz and caught the attention of Mickey and Tiffany Bellot, who asked him to do a show and cook for clients at their B&B. The idea for Beyond the Glass – a Bloody Mary build-it-yourself workshop – developed from that.
“Let me do the cooking, then let’s have everyone sit around the table,” he remembers thinking. “I’ll parse it out, and they can come in and participate. I’ll show them how a chef and artist intricately puts it all together.” During his workshops, once the Bloody Mary and its meal are built, he explains to participants how to deconstruct it, what the flavor profiles are, what they are tasting, and how to pair the food items for maximum flavor. That first event was held in May, and attendees immediately asked to be on the list
for the next. “It was absolutely mind-blowing,” Hulin recalls.
When local artist Paul Schexneyder recently completed a mural on the side of a building on Main and North Lews in New Iberia, Hulin got an idea for his next show: the Palette to Plate edition. In fleshing out the workshop in his mind, he made the connection between Schexnayder’s trademark kings that appear in many of his paintings and murals, and the seafood industry. The result was a workshop entitled, “The King & The Crab.” He approached Schexnayder, who agreed, then sought out other partners for the workshop.
Each color from Schexnayder’s palette was mimicked in Hulin’s dish. Color by color, Schexnayder painted and Hulin plated. When it was done, a picture of one of his iconic kings emerged alongside a blue crab. Complementing the experience further, Schexnayder, who is also a children’s writer and illustrator, read an original story that coincided with the painting. “That was the first one to see if we could pull it off,” Hulin explains. “We’ll do many of those.”
In the Works
What started as a practice run for his live show has become an entity on its own. “Right now I have about 35 shows planned out,” Hulin says. Most of his envisioned events are Bloody Mary build-your-own workshops, which he lists with increasing enthusiasm: like the one he’s currently putting together that’s Latino-inspired, with a green tomatillo base, and a Surf & Turf event, or a Keto-friendly one, or a kids’ version with V-8 Splash. He’s also excited about one called, “Under the Stars,” which is a nod to NASA, complete with freeze dried foods from New Iberia’s Freeze ‘Dat.
In the meantime he wants to branch out to different types of drinks and continue exploring the Palette to Plate concept. “Not everyone likes Bloody Mary’s, so I ask myself what else can I do as an artist that will be something people want to do.” For example, Hulin plans a wine night with several flights of wine and 3-D charcuterie board on top of it. When it comes time to deconstruct the sculpture, he’ll get the winery to talk about each bottle, and maybe Jay Florsheim of Peace, Love & Smoke to talk about the cheeses, and a smoked meats partner to discuss that process.
The food and drink are only a part of the experience Hulin plans out ahead of time. He also arranges all the partnerships, the educational aspects of the event, the peripheral entertainment, and the theme. “It takes me months to fully form an idea and come up with the collaborations. And then I let it marinate,” he says. In fleshing out his events, he sketches each of his ideas, down to the order of the food, the colors, the flavor combinations and the deconstruction. “Normally when I create an event cocktail, I
draw it,” he explains. “How does it look? What are the colors? And what is the physics behind it? Can what I’m putting on it actually stand up in the glass without tipping it over? How do I counterbalance the weight and then build it up to make it a piece of art and not just food.”
Hulin doesn’t necessarily need Beyond the Glass or a live cooking show to promote his successful line of products; his motivation seems to be deeper than that. “There’s a reason I don’t own a restaurant after all,” he explains. “I love cooking, but the idea of cooking something then sending it out of the kitchen is not appealing. I want to cook it and I want to see you have that epiphany moment. I want to see that experience, and I want to have that experience with you.”
Ultimately Hulin hopes his participants will take away an experience of a lifetime: to be able to make something with their own hands with a trained chef and to experience flavors they never have before. “I hope to cause a spark in them, and that they go home and think maybe they can do something different, too,” he says.