"Pop-ups purportedly originally started as ‘supper clubs’ in the 1960s but gained a resurgence of popularity and format in the 2000’s aided no doubt by the spread of social media."
It got me thinking about the whole pop-up dining scene, the where, how, why and of course the pure logistics of the phenomenon.
Both the Pop-ups above normally operate in Auckland, one as a top end fine dining restaurant and the other as a more casual but extremely busy Italian Bistro. The restaurants are owned by the same folk and there tends to be a degree of interchanging of staff between the two restaurants in the normal course of operation.
Upon wondering why they were coming north it was explained to me that the fine dining restaurant closed down for the period over Christmas and some of the young chefs and front of house staff thought it would be a more fun and exciting experience, rather than simply taking a break like everyone else, to instead ‘move’ their operations north to a popular holiday destination thus combining work with some festive action and adventure.
The bistro restaurant pop-up was basically presented in a street food/food truck style which worked well in its seaside village setting. The fine dining pop-up operated out of an exclusive resort further up the road, acting to both showcase the resort to visiting diners as well as provide the resort guests with an exclusive dining experience not ordinarily available.
Opening a ‘pop-up’ four hours north of a large city allowed both the local population to take part in dining experiences not normally available to them and of course also allowed those who had decamped from the city to their holiday homes a familiar ‘taste’ of the city while on holiday! And furthermore, with the country still in a border lockdown situation it meant the restaurants, instead of waiting for the normal internationally based tourist population come to them, were instead taking their product to the now mainly New Zealand based population who tended to avoid the cities at this time of year and instead hit the beaches. So, the city chefs brought their style and ethos but then used this to showcase, experiment with and celebrate local food.
A grand idea, but no mean feat to organise and then deliver successfully. Reputations can be at stake! Indeed, pop-ups allow restaurants to test themselves but can also allow young chefs a chance to prove themselves, away from the constraints of normal operation, an opportunity to create credibility and the freedom of menu design, or experimentation with unusual ingredients or concepts without the burden of a large financial layout. They can also attract investors!
A former student of mine, a very passionate and talented young chef who after working his way up the ladder, doing his time in various top end restaurants needed to now spread his wings. The perfect testing ground for him was the 2013 America’s Cup Yacht Racing in San Francisco. He made full use of the pop-up concept to advance his career and make a relatively safe first foray into the running of his own restaurant. He showcased New Zealand food, providing the yachting world with a taste of his own country whilst also having a captive audience in the many New Zealanders in town supporting their team. Smart move!
Pop-ups purportedly originally started as ‘supper clubs’ in the 1960s but gained a resurgence of popularity and format in the 2000’s aided no doubt by the spread of social media as a means of information dissemination and promotion. Whether ‘popping-up’ temporarily in an unexpected bricks and mortar location or in the form of a food-truck which ‘pops-up’ in varying locations heralded by word of mouth and social media there is an inherent excitement and anticipation about partaking in an experience which may be here today, gone tomorrow. If you delve into the American food truck scene you quickly sense an almost cult like atmosphere, to gain access to coveted information about the best pop-ups and food trucks, when they will be and where they will be…. there are only so many serves available after all.
Pop-ups are also associated with more philanthropic ends being a popular format for charitable functions, for what better way to raise money than offering the chance of dining care of a world-famous chef or chefs. A once in a life-time experience for many that often involves emotionally charged ‘what the hell’ abuse of credit cards.
Even without the charitable excuses guest appearances by celebrity chefs are popular events allowing locals to experience the magic of dining without the need to travel overseas. Some names that spring to mind who have made it even as far afield as New Zealand include the likes of Gordon Ramsey, Rick Stein, Thomas Keller, Jamie Oliver and Marco Pierre White. In today’s culinary world chef’s names have become brands, with these chefs now not so much known for their own restaurants but the television programmes, the culinary products, the books and so on. Let’s face it only so many people are able to visit your restaurant, but you can take your name out into the world. A far more lucrative game indeed.
These endeavours do also benefit the local scene, affording young chefs the chance to work with formidably experienced and knowledgeable culinary masters, while also allowing the visiting chefs to investigate new ingredients and culinary styles thus continually broadening their own culinary scope. The overall effect is the increasing vibrancy and diversity of the global culinary scene. Times have indeed moved on from chefs becoming associated with a particular restaurant in a particular locale, working with a particular range of ingredients. We are instead in an era, dare I say it, of ‘global chefs’?
I guess in summation, pop-ups and their iterations allow both well established and emerging chefs to test and challenge themselves, to keep evolving. This is a necessity in the ever changing hospitality world, in this industry you are after all only ever as good as your last meal.