DINING DESTINATION moveable feast
more successful efforts, she was
invited by James Beard Award-winning chef Naomi Pomeroy of
Beast in Portland, Oregon, to do
a collaborative pop-up.
Emphasizing soba made
sense to Soma, because although
it is commonplace in Japan, it is
still an underrated dish in the U.S.,
Soma says pop-up logistics are somewhat different from that of a permanent
location, but adds that they are not so tough that they can’t be mastered. “We
found that selling tickets in advance is the easiest way to ensure that we have sufficient
funds to cover food costs, as well as to make certain the seats will be filled on the day
of the event,” she says.
Other difficulties usually have to do with cooking in an unfamiliar space—
sometimes even an unconventional space—without a functional kitchen. “Soba involves
working with a delicate dough that is sensitive to temperature, humidity, and heat,”
Soma says. “Because of this, we are selective about pop-up locations. We make sure we
have the proper tools and facilities to operate before we sign up. Also, because we do
pop-ups frequently, we’ve developed a kit—including easy-to-carry tools, equipment,
marketing materials and so on—that allows us to put together a pop-up fairly quickly.”
OK YAKI’s Irby says his kit includes portable electric flattops on which he cooks
everything needed for the event. “I store food in coolers on ice or in the restaurant’s
refrigerator if available. I might need someone to help run a register or one person to
help in the kitchen, but I’ve also cooked alone at a cocktail bar with the normal waitstaff
taking care of the service. I usually do pop-ups at places where I don’t need to provide
seating. Commonly, I seek out a bar or existing restaurant with its own seating.”
HELP WANTED, HELP FOUND
Finding labor for a night or two is usually not hard, says Soma. “We try to tap into
our pool of friends in the industry for staffing, although once in a while we’ve had to
use people with little to no restaurant experience.” Nevertheless, she adds, resorting to
this kind of make-it-work attitude or improvisation in the face of challenges adds to the
fun and variety of the experience.
Chandler’s first Pop-Up Tucson event a year ago was a collaboration with TJ Culp,
a chef from Scottsdale, Arizona. “Our focus was to create an exciting menu using local
ingredients and, at the same time, introduce a brand-new concept to Tucson,” he says.
The event, held in a canyon and with a jazz trio playing, drew 35 guests for a five-course
meal. It was immediately successful, and Chandler continues to put on similar events.
ABOVE: Citrus and Earl Grey terrine with pumpernickel crumbles, pickled red onion and tarragon is part of a pop-up dinner from Detroit Underground Omakase (D.U.O.), the brainchild of brothers Eric, left, and Jeremy Abbey.
OPPOSITE, TOP: Corban Irby introduced okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes) to Atlanta with his OK YAKI pop-up.
OPPOSITE, BOTTOM: Fukuji sake representative Yuko Saika, left, watches as Matsuko Soma plates dishes at
Batman and Robin, step aside. Eric and Jeremy Abbey
are a new dynamic duo, making their mark as culinary
heroes who celebrate underground pop-up dining
experiences once a month in and around their home city
of Detroit. These dinners almost always sell out, even
though they are not advertised or announced in advance.
The programs, organized under the name Detroit
Underground Omakase (D.U.O.), began when Jeremy
Abbey, certification director for the American Culinary
Federation, St. Augustine, Florida, won a silver medal
at the Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg. He told his
brother, “I just want to cook my food,” and Eric Abbey
replied, “Then why don’t you?”
Seeking to avoid the everyday hassle of running a
restaurant, Eric Abbey suggested they start a club
centered solely on food and featuring the best service
possible. He also recommended that they pursue
an anti-marketing concept—no advertising and only
minimal publicity. Mystery, exclusivity and, above all,
excellent cuisine were the big draws.
A few invitations were sent to friends and acquaintances
before the first event in September 2015 at a local
art space. Forty people showed up—a sellout. Word of
mouth was electric, social media, too, and October and
November also sold out. “No kitchen was available at
our inaugural event, so we used immersion circulators,
butane burners and a toaster oven,” Jeremy Abbey says.
After the third month, the brothers decided to form
event partnerships. Larger venues accommodated
growing attendance. At one dinner, co-sponsored by
edible WOW magazine and held at Ponyride in the
Corktown area of Detroit, Jeremy Abbey created 17
courses for a dinner that lasted more than three hours.
A constant for the brothers is the theme of omakase,
a Japanese approach that allows the chef to be in
complete control of the meal. It is generally focused
on multiple courses and features anything that the
chef can come up with. “The diner is treated to the
vision of the chef,” Jeremy Abbey says.
“Omakase” translates to, “I will leave it to you.” And
that’s what D.U.O.’s guests do.