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Here today, gone tomorrow - that is the only way to describe a pop up restaurant. But this is one trend that is not likely to be gone anytime soon.
Le 15 Patisserie, the quaint, pink bakery in Bandra, Mumbai is famous for its macaroons, tarts and cupcakes. But come Tuesday and there are queues waiting to try their hands on tasting shots of artisanal coffee and premium teas, dip crackers in gourmet dips, bag organic eatables and homemade breads. This day every week, the space hosts culinary entrepreneurs, allowing them to have pop-up displays inside the premise.
'Pop-up' as the name suggests, is a temporary shop, restaurant or display that pops up for a day at a given venue, showcases its fare before vanishing again until next time. According to owner and head chef of Le 15 Patisserie, Pooja Dhingra, pop-ups are essentially created to encourage like-minded producers to showcase their fare to a wider audience and alongside offer regular patrons something different. "Since Le 15 Patisserie's forte is sweet bakes, guests visiting us on that one day of the week get to try various other things as well," she says.
Internationally known as 'supper clubs', the concept of pop-up dining hails from United States, Cuba, Australia and Britain that have been practising temporary feasting since the year 2000. In India, the concept is relatively nascent and can broadly be divided into three streams.
The first kind of pop-up is where the chef sets up an ad-hoc kitchen in another restaurant. In this kind of dining, the visiting chef uses in-house equipments but creates a menu that is drastically different from the restaurant's existing carte du jour. This recently happened at The Tasting Room in Mumbai where Chef Jehangir Mehta from New York's Graffiti showcased his signature recipes for one night as a part of Taste of Mumbai festival.
The second kind of pop-up is where chefs, bakers or home-cooks pop-up in your kitchen and create a bespoke culinary experience. Like Delhi's Damson catering, Pune's The Gourmet Chef and Mumbai's Pllatterati. Chef Joshua D'Souza from Silverspoon Gourmet, a Mumbai-based catering service cum pop-up kitchen says, "What differentiates it from the former kind is that factors such as choice of cuisine, serving style and portions sizes are tailor-made to suit a guest's preference. On the other hand, when it comes to restaurant-based pop-ups, you are offered a fixed menu - take it for leave it."
The last kind, which is also the closest to what pop-up dining originally started out as is what Delhi-based journalist Anoothi Vishal offers. She says, "If you observe pop-up culture abroad, you will see how restaurants start from the scratch - from their equipments to the table setting everything is spontaneous. The kitchen opens at the most unexpected of places such as a parking lot, an old shop, by the lake and serves the most unexpected of cuisines." Keeping this essence in mind, under the brand name The Great Delhi pop-up, Vishal along with a friend sets up pop-kitchens once every month in an art gallery or a local home. Their aim is to serve curated meals that touch niche cuisines such as Moroccan, Marwari, Assamese, authentic Indian festive fare, old - Delhi recipes and so on - that are hard to find otherwise.
Brainchild of restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani and Chef Gresham Fernandes, the pan Indian venture titled The Gypsy Kitchen Project is also similar. Started out a month ago, this pop-up kitchen is not just a business model. "It is also a social experiment of sorts where via a meal cooked by housewives, home chefs, and traditional cooks - we aim to document their lives and understand the technique and history behind these vanishing dishes," says co-curator Fernandes.
During each Gypsy Kitchen dinner, all logistical support such as power, water, ingredients will be provided by the duo and its location will converted by The Busride Design Studio to give out an ambulating restaurant-like vibe. "However, all the proceeds from the meal will go back to the home chef as this is our way of giving back to the society," adds Fernandes.
According Deepti Dadlani, marketing head of deGustibus Hospitality (company that runs Indigo, Neel and Indigo Deli chain) and an avid pop-up-restaurant-attendee, pop-ups are mainly targeted towards the upwardly mobile, urban food enthusiast. And with the rise awareness about cuisines and the want to venture into novelty, the number of pop-ups too is drastically increasing. Dadlani who recently attended a dinner hosted by Secret Supper Project and Brown Paper Bag's Turning Table feels that "What works during this kind of set up is that it is not just about food. It is also about meeting new people, dining in a new environment, the discreet vibe and food, which is almost always fantastic. And that what the crowd is looking for," she says.
Apart from being secretive about their whereabouts, pop-up ventures seldom engage in heavy-duty PR exercises as well. Instead, they rely mainly on word of mouth publicity. Take for instance Vishal and Fernandes who extensively use their Facebook page to invite diners and chefs, respectively. Similarly, Delhi-based food writer and blogger Pamela Timms who hosted pop-up tea parties titled Uparwali Chai - Delhi's first-ever real pop up - promoted upcoming soirees via her blog only.
There are also some pop-up organisers who like to personally choose their diners. Take for instance Satisfy Umami, an underground vegetarian restaurant run by Mumbai-based duo Tatiana and Rishaal. The Bandra-based chefs are very particular about who visits their terrace-restaurant, so much so that fluky requests to attend gatherings are often turned down or accepted only after thorough screening. But once you are in - food nirvana awaits.
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