A dinner at Danny’s is no ordinary dinner. A dinner at Danny’s—that is, Danny Bowien, the chef-lebrity behind the Mission Chinese franchise who posed nude with a lobster for this very magazine—may involve cellophane noodles in takeout boxes, Super Pollo fried chicken wings sprinkled with fennel candy, Kim Petras, Pop Rocks, and plenty of mezcal to go around. On September 9, the first of Bowien’s ongoing Secret Special dinner series, it also involved the photographer, model, and permanent fixture of the downtown New York creative milieu Richie Shazam, as well as the artist and fashion designer Carly Mark. (And a 92-year-old couple.) The series—hosted at the restaurant’s Bushwick outpost and presented in collaboration with the restaurant reservations platform Resy—brings friends of Bowien’s who work in various creative fields together to help curate menus that venture far outside the bounds of traditional Chinese food. The result: dishes like “Carly’s Baby Hot Dog Inari Fried Rice,” inspired by Mark’s go-to Mission Chinese order, or “Richie’s Cheese Naan Fantasy.”
By the end of the night, bellies were full with cacio e pepe rice cakes and lamb ribs, many shots were downed, and the 92-year-old couple was kind of over it. Bowien, however, was still going, still in silver eyeliner after having arrived straight from walking the New York Fashion Week show of his friend (and future dinner host), the designer Sandy Liang. When describing the pink fizzy cocktail she dreamt up, Mark says, “At the end, in Danny’s signature style, you throw a shot of Pop Rocks on top. I feel like that’s how we all work–just throw a shot of Pop Rocks at it.” Danny interjects: “That’s literally us.” “It’s our mantra,” Mark adds. “Just put some Pop Rocks on it, babe. I had three.” —SARAH NECHAMKIN
MARK BURGER: What was so special about this dinner in particular?
DANNY BOWIEN: For me it was cool because there weren’t a bunch of food people there, and for them [Shazam and Mark] it was great because there weren’t a bunch of fashion people there. It was just people. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and with any working relationship, it’s difficult to stay engaged and not become jaded. It’s really fun to see excitement, kind of like a reawakening of sorts. I’ve done the chef collaboration thing and I’m okay at it. I’ve always wanted to do something that was a little bit more quirky, a little bit outside of the box and not so insular. If you just do things within your creative community, everyone’s kind of patting each other on the back, but what’s the challenge there? There’s no risk.
With the next one, there’s going to be a design element with Sandy Liang, Nick Atkins, and Brrch Floral. The idea with the first one is it had to be really hot and fast. Most of the time Richie and Carly are in a big hurry. And me too—I got to go to the restaurant, I got to go get my son. I wanted it to capture that in-and-out energy where everything hits the table once. It’s almost like Korean barbecue where you don’t really have to order anything, it all comes. It encourages people to just eat. I think with one of the dinners, we’re going to try to get everyone to get up and walk outside for a course. We’ve got to do that soon, before it gets cold.
BURGER: There’s so much you can do with people who aren’t in the food business.
BOWIEN: It’s not what they do for a living, but there’s a crossover. I walked in Carly’s show, and I’m not a fashion person per se, but she had me do it. There’s so much melding of creative energy within like, food, art, music, culture and it’s only for the best.
CARLY MARK: Hi. You guys, I’m sorry. I can’t be on time to anything. [Editor’s Note: Carly was an hour late to the Mission Chinese dinner.] This is insane. [Laughs.]
BURGER: No worries. What was your first thought when Danny invited you to come do this?
MARK: Well, doing anything with Danny is ideal for me because I love Danny so much. I feel like we kind of go manic with each other, and we come up with all these ideas, but literally anything you’re down for, Danny, I am down to do. We had been collaborating on shirts for this current season that I just had with Puppets and Puppets, so it just all made sense. I feel like Mission is this hub for all of the downtown creatives. We all meet there, eat dinner there, work on things together there. It’s just such a creative space. It’s not just about food, you know?
BOWIEN: I think that’s how downtown New York has always been. I think about The Odeon and Indochine–they were these great restaurants, but also such figures in downtown culture. I’ve always hoped and wanted that to be Mission, and that’s what it is. Not to sound self-congratulatory, but it’s like, that’s kind of what’s happening right now, and that’s the phase that we’re in. It’s nothing new, but it’s new to us. New York’s always had that, and I think that’s a very special thing about New York.
MARK: Food and art have always been this creative intersection. And it’s not just straightforward food. Working on this menu with Danny, it was like, “Ooh, let’s try this and let’s try that, and let’s try this.” It’s super unconventional, it’s really creative, and very artful. Doing the dinner with him just made so much sense. We were all in the kitchen one day, just being creative, and it didn’t feel any different than the practice that I have in the studio getting ready for a show.
BOWIEN: What’s cool is it’s helped me not care. I love that we’re able to have fun again. One day, I was like, “What’s your favorite thing to eat, Richie?” And Richie was like, “I really love nachos.” I was like, okay, I’ve never made a nacho. Carly was like, “You know, I love a cabbage salad. That’s my favorite thing you make.” So then we were like, what if we did a cabbage salad as a nacho? If it was other chefs, we would have to elevate it, and make it super chef-y. I was like, no, let’s just make it with chips. With Bushwick, people want something that’s their own. They don’t want a rehash of a downtown Manhattan restaurant. They want something that’s for Bushwick. Richie’s naan was amazing. It’s literally inspired by our trip to Red Lobster. That was the first time we all ate out together.
MARK: Yeah, we all went to Red Lobster together. [Laughs.]
BOWIEN: With Carly, her dishes are inspired by every time she comes in. She orders, and I always make it a little bit different. This version that we were making currently, she said, “I’m calling it the baby hot dog rice,” because it has these little, ground up Chinese sausages in it that taste like hot dogs. This has singlehandedly helped me reengage and be happy about what I do. I’m becoming comfortable in my own skin as a chef. And that’s something I did not expect to come from just a dinner.
MARK: I like collaboration. I think that collaborating with friends, especially friends who are working in slightly different mediums and figuring out a way to put all of that together, and incorporating it into your practice is super exciting. You end up with things that feel fresh and new. Both of us work in this way. We’re not afraid to bridge lowbrow and highbrow, or try to fit a square peg into a circular hole. We’ll just do it. We don’t care.
BOWIEN: The night before, we hosted a little after-thing at Mission downtown, and we were like, “Where’s Richie?” Because I was making all the dishes just for a few people, and Carly and Richie were supposed to taste them just to make sure that everything was dialed in the way they wanted them to be. And Richie shows up at the very end, and she’s like, “Oh my God, I’m starving, I’m going to faint, I need food.” I was like, “Where were you?” She was like, “I was late because I was with Rihanna. I’m walking her show.”
MARK: She was literally late because she was with Rihanna. That’s why I think we’re all so close, because we’re these psycho people that just go, go, go, go, go. But I love it that way.
BOWIEN: Sweet but psycho.
MARK: For my drink that Danny and I talked about for a while, I was like, what about taking a bath bomb? Different colors, and all this shit. At the end, in Danny’s signature style, you throw a shot of Pop Rocks on top. It’s called Carly’s Bath Bomb. I feel like that’s how we all work–just throw a shot of Pop Rocks at it. That’s us across the board.
BOWIEN: That’s literally us.
MARK: It’s our mantra: just put some Pop Rocks on it, babe. I had three. [Laughs.]
BURGER: What was the most unexpected thing about the whole event for you?
MARK: Just seeing everyone in the room. I didn’t really know what to expect. But it was a room full of people that I didn’t know, and they actually paid to be there. I was like, who are you and why do you want to eat my gluten-free chicken wings?
BOWIEN: That’s what it’s about. It wasn’t a press dinner for an opening of a restaurant, it wasn’t a public-facing dinner for the start of Fashion Week. It was just a bunch of regular people, which was what I do this for, honestly. I feel like that was my favorite part of the night–looking out, seeing people enjoying themselves, but I had no idea who they were. That was the scary part, too. It’s funny, we talk about how I see this chaotic, unnerving energy right before a fashion show starts. It’s very much like right before a restaurant opens up for service. No matter how much you plan or prep, it’s always the same. Something’s going to go wrong, and it takes people being cool, calm and collected to execute this vision. It’s like a drug. The level of endorphins that are going in that kind of experience are nuts. Carly, did you see that very old couple there?
BOWIEN: They just looked up online, like, fun things to do in New York and they came.
MARK: Oh my god. I’m just obsessed with that.
BOWIEN: They were the first ones there. When they were sitting down I was like, why are we seating people? I was like freaking out. I was like, we’re not open yet, we’re not ready. There’s a picture of them–I will send it to you. It’s on my phone.
MARK: We should frame it and put it on the wall.
BOWIEN: I think we should too. I just sent it to you, you should get it.
MARK: Holy mother.
BOWIEN: [Laughs.] Did you see them?
MARK: I love them so much.
BURGER: They were actually sitting at our table. They took down those Mezcal shots like it was their job.
BOWIEN: They’re so cute, and they were there the entire time. At the end we’re blasting Kim Petras super loud, and they were so mellow. They weren’t like, “This is fucking weird, I’m leaving.” I was like, at what point are they going to ask us to turn the music down? At what point are they going to ask what the fuck is going on? They didn’t care. I want to send them a care package.
MARK: You should.
BOWIEN: What would we even send them though?
MARK: Send them a gift certificate to the restaurant.
BOWIEN: Yes, and then a case of Pop Rocks from Carly’s drink.