POP- UP GOES THE FOODIE

Pop- ups have gone from be­ing ‘ on- the- fringe’ set- ups by people with limited re­sources to now sig­ni­fy­ing the new culi­nary cool, finds pop­u­lar food critic and founder of the Great Delhi Pop- up, Anoothi Vishal

DNA Sunday (Mumbai) - - FOOD -

OEven with­out celebrity fire­power, pop- ups con­tinue to be pip­ing haute, glob­ally and in­creas­ingly in In­dia too

n June 23, quite un­known to the rest of ( saner) hu­man­ity, there may just be a meta­phoric scram­ble in the gourmet uni­verse: Noma, widely re­garded as the world’s best restau­rant, will open reser­va­tions for its Jan­uary pop- up in Tokyo. Given that our world is now pop­u­lated by se­ri­ous food­ies who live and travel to eat and mark out an­nual cal­en­dars ac­cord­ing to the dik­tats of whim­si­cal chefs, it is not out­ra­geous to ex­pect tick­ets to be snapped up in a day or two — al­most half- a- year in ad­vance.

The pop- up is hugely an­tic­i­pated. Ever since chef Rene Redzepi an­nounced that his Copen­hagen- based, cut­ting- edge restau­rant will re­lo­cate to Tokyo to the Man­darin Ori­en­tal for three weeks next year, ex­pec­ta­tions have been sky high. How will Redzepi’s sen­si­bil­i­ties trans­late?

The Noma pop- up is gar­ner­ing its share of ex­cite­ment based on the rep­u­ta­tion of its chef. Well, so is He­ston Blu­men­thal’s The Fat Duck ( to pop up in Mel­bourne next year). And that may well be the buzzing new trend this year: su­per chefs go­ing the pop- up route. But even with­out celeb fire­power, pop- ups con­tinue to be pip­ing haute, glob­ally and in­creas­ingly in In­dia too. My own tryst with the con­cept hap­pened much more mod­estly. Two years ago, freshly home af­ter a dizzy­ing gourmet jour­ney in Mel­bourne, I de­cided to have my own bit of fun with food- en­ter­prise. In a Shatabdi from Jaipur, post the litfest, two friends and I, all am­bi­tious jour­nal­ists, de­cided to empty out one of our homes, con­vert it into a “restau­rant” for a day, call about 20 care­fully cho­sen people for a “non- restau­ran­tised” meal that I would cook and sup­ple­ment with wine, con­ver­sa­tion and even a book read­ing. The Great Delhi Pop- up was born — al­most with in­stant suc­cess.

In the months af­ter that, we refi ned it. As num­bers grew via wordof- mouth and Face­book, we es­chewed al­most all other pub­lic­ity, want­ing to stay strictly un­der the radar in or­der to be true to the “un­der­ground” con­cept as well as to mon­i­tor guest profi le. We shifted out from homes to a gor­geous art gallery, where we laid out ta­bles un­der an an­cient banyan tree. In­stead of only cook­ing my Kayastha old Delhi food my­self, I found tal­ented home cooks to do ev­ery­thing from Moroc­can to Mar­wari. ( Our con­cept re­mains com­mu­nity- based cuisines that you can­not fi nd in reg­u­lar restaurants.) We hired equip­ment, a cater­ing in­sti­tute kitchen to cook in and wait­ers. And we found chef Nis­hant Choubey to help us with ex­per­tise and spon­sors who took a shine to the idea, be­cause, well, pop- ups sud­denly be­came so fash­ion­able that its mere men­tion perked up ears.

The strength of a food mar­ket lies not just in the num­ber, kind and suc­cess of restaurants that open up but in the ex­is­tence and growth of a larger food cul­ture. Ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with cuisines and for­mats is a nat­u­ral out­come of a ma­tur­ing mar­ket. The “van cul­ture” in Amer­ica— where $ 20- 30 can fetch you gourmet qual­ity food and the lo­ca­tion of vans are zeal­ously tracked across towns by fans on the so­cial me­dia — se­cret sup­per clubs and in­deed pop- up restaurants have been in­ter­est­ing ideas, democratis­ing the high, stiff- white table­clothed ta­bles of the past. But over the last two years, pop- ups have been co- opted into the es­tab­lish­ment. In­stead of be­ing the “on­the- fringes” set ups by people and chefs with few re­sources but high cre­ativ­ity, they are now the buz- zword to sig­nify the new culi­nary cool. And any­thing, from spon­sored din­ners to cook­outs by high fl ying chefs and in­deed restau­rant meals ( within es­tab­lished restaurants), can be branded pop- ups.

Last year, TheDin­nerClub57, an in­ter­na­tional sup­per club with quite a few fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram, came to a Delhi farm­house with a pop- up: a beau­ti­ful, fairy­tale like van, atop which sat strictly in­vited people on beau­ti­ful round- ta­bles. The event was catered to by a restau­rant com­pany. Was it a le­git popup? Per­haps, per­haps not and therein lies the de­bate.

If celeb chefs abroad are trav­el­ling to other re­gions with their pop- ups, our very own Ritu Dalmia cooked at a hugely suc­cess­ful pop- up in Mum­bai a cou­ple of months ago.

Man­gal Dalal and Nachiket Shetye, who ush­ered in the Restau­rant Week con­cept in In­dia, some months ago took up an art gallery, got the req­ui­site li­cences to turn it into a restau­rant for three days and fl ew down Dalmia and her team to cook for 120 people per day. The event, priced at Rs2,500 per per­son,

A pop- up is a restau­rant that lit­er­ally pops up for a fixed pe­riod of time, usu­ally in an un­ex­pected lo­ca­tion

was a sell out and had enough spon­sors to make it profi ta­ble — a chal­lenge smaller pop- ups face; along with scout­ing for lo­ca­tions ( per­mits are tough to come by in In­dia and hold­ing some­thing like the East Lon­don park­ing lot event is quite un­think­able) and fi xing in­fra­struc­ture ( if you are not a pro­fes­sional).

A pop- up, of course, is a restau­rant that lit­er­ally pops up for a fi xed pe­riod of time, usu­ally in an un­ex­pected lo­ca­tion. If that is the sole cri­te­rion, why should we com­plain about celeb chefs and es­tab­lished restaurants jump­ing on the band­wagon?

A pop- up needs to of­fer you an al­ter­nate way of con­sum­ing — and not merely eat­ing. It may of­fer you a slice of cul­ture that you know noth­ing about, the warmth and gen­uine­ness of a home or a flash of bril­liance that restau­rant com­merce may not sup­port. As more and more food- en­trepreneurs in the coun­try jump on the band­wagon, that is what they may well re­mem­ber.

Guests at a Kayastha pop- up event or­gan­ised by The Great Delhi Pop- up

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