The illicit, yet homey thrill of pop up restaurants. By Sophie MaxwellBy: Sophie Maxwell, Published: Mar 29, 2010
The search for progress affects us all. Through their promotion of quality and variety of ingredients, funding farming, animal husbandry and new healthy cooking techniques the ambitions of the world's top chefs have extended far beyond their perfect dishes to inspire the mass-market and affect our own desire for epicureanism. Coupled with financial pressures and the new necessity of being resourceful we have a desire to be inspired by true artisanship and to see it reflected through a personal development odyssey (our own and those of boutique and entrepreneurial brands). But, when it comes to our kitchens, the toil and physical effort equals real and fulfilling achievement. Sourcing ingredients combined with the sensuality, tactility and the ritual of putting them together both reclaims skills and explores our creativity and palettes. And playing such a hands-on part in the transformation of these ingredients creates an even stronger bond with our food. Cooking is often described as the key to our humanity and coming together to eat restores the structure, social dynamics, connection and emotion of mealtimes and our homes.
Chefs - particularly through their appearance on TV - have taken the fear out of cooking. As seen recently in the film 'Julie and Julia' (where a New York office worker copies and blogs her journey of cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Childs 1961 book 'Mastering the art of French cooking'.) they have given us courage to try things and develop our own recipes. Even the most exacting of chefs are now making a direct connection to us and our kitchens, softening their styles and making themselves accessible. Thomas Keller. founder of seminal California restaurant The French Laundry, has published a collection of recipes 'destined for the center of the table at casual family gatherings' based on his restaurant 'Ad Hoc' - a temporary 'home comfort food' concept that became permanent due to its popularity.
This return to experiential dining and desire for company has created a level of confidence where both professionals and non-professionals are opening their homes as 'Supper Clubs' to cook for a paying public. These home-grown establishments described in a variety of ways including " Home Restaurants', 'Supper clubs', 'Anti-Restaurants', 'Pop-Ups', and 'Guerilla Diners' have placed the emphasis back on dining to eat, enjoy and be praised rather than to be seen (though in many cases the location and company add to the experience).
One is ex El Bulli chef Nuno Mendes and his partner Clarise, who run their club from Kingsland Road, Hackney, in a breathtakingly stylish location called The Loft. Another pioneer of the underground restaurant is London based Ms Marmite. Described as "Julia Child with lipstick and a punk anarchist past" her blog illustrates how widespread the underground dining community has become with links from Italy to South Carolina, Paris to Argentina, Austria to Australia. It also shows the love, diversity and crafting of the food experience. She recently hosted an Elvis night at her home on the anniversary of his 75th birthday. Every part of the menu carefully researched to mirror his extraordinary diet including beer batter deep fried dill pickles, Brokeback Baked Beans and – of course - peanut butter, processed cheese and banana sandwiches fried in tempura batter.
"Inspires the non-professional to raise their game-and have a good time while doing so."- The professional praise of Anthony Bourdain on Zora O'Neill and Tamara Reynolds of the Astoria supper club NYC
Ranging from homely and playful, to sophisticated and expert, supper clubs and all other reaches of our new found gastronomic aspirations are about using imagination and engaging like-minded people who value personal attention to detail and bringing individuality to the unique experiences they create.
I'm in no doubt that we will start to see other categories exploring their dimensions of creativity and finding ways to adopt and showcase the move away from mass luxury to this true, artisan and intimate 'specialness'. There are some fantastic new entrepreneurial brands popping up that are embracing the artisanal approach from product to packaging to promotion. But, it will be particularly interesting to see if – and how – the big brands try to harness this move away from the mass in the positioning and packaging of their individual products and their global retail environments.
Green Onions Gorilla Cooking
The Loft (UK)
The English Can Cook & Ms Marmite
The Sunday night dinner in Astoria (NYC)
The Whisk and Ladle Supper Club - (NYC)
The Cake Committee
Sophie Maxwell is Head of Creative Insight at Pearlfisher