Not familiar with the pop-up concept? It's simple enough — on a regular schedule, operators announce the time and place they'll "pop up" next, and then offer reservations for as many seats as the space allows. Venues can be coffee shops, bakeries, galleries, warehouses, urban farms, even brick-and-mortar restaurants willing to lend out their space for an evening. This week, we take a look at Chartreuse and Komodo Kitchen.
Corinne Rice is the certified raw and vegan chef who runs a dinner pop-up called Chartreuse. Her aim was to create "a memorable culinary and social moment that exists briefly and disappears immediately, as if it were a dream," and the venture has so far been a success.
If the project is unorthodox, so is her culinary background. Unlike most normally certified chefs, who can spend as long as two years at culinary school, Rice instead took a concentrated two-month intensive program in raw and vegan techniques at the Matthew Kenney Academy, named for its founder, a world-renowned raw vegan chef who Rice says "changed his diet by going vegan, and then altered his style of cooking to reflect that."
Unlike other pop-up entrepreneurs, Rice sort of fell into the phenomenon.
"I actually had gotten hired about a year ago to do a dinner for about 76 people, it was a birthday dinner, sort of a surprise party for David Wolfe, a leading expert in health and nutrition. I just developed a menu and created all the foods, and really enjoyed it. I didn't even realize it was a pop-up. My friend April Boyle [of Komodo] and I had a meeting discussing business things. She explained what it was, and I realized I had already done a pop-up. It had all the elements: A dinner, tickets sold in advance, held at a location not normally a restaurant."
Realizing that she was already part of a trend, she created Chartreuse. "I thought to myself I could do this on my own."
The first Chartreuse was held in February at Dell Pryor Gallery in Detroit, and Rice says there were "14 guests at first, just friends and family."
The most recent event took place at Rhiza Farm in Highland Park just a few weeks ago, drawing 28 guests.
For $50, diners get four courses, including an appetizer, soup or salad, entrée and dessert. June's event at the Fisher Building, for instance, included Asian salad (mixed greens, coconut noodles, baby corn, scallions and more), a jalapeño-watermelon gazpacho, a crab cake (with Creole slaw, red jalapeño cream and saffron-corn pico de gallo) and ending with a combination of almond nougatine, orange-cardamom white chocolate and vanilla bean-sour cherry marmalade.
All menus are vegan, raw, organic, gluten-free and, lately, pretty much all made with local produce. "I might have to use something like lemon juice," Rice points out, "and we don't grow lemons here."
And since it's local, it's also seasonal, with menus based on what's available at the moment.
"I try and hop around from farm to farm and kind of promote them and what they're doing at the dinners."
Rice's culinary artistry is one of the main draws of Chartreuse. She says, "The culinary school I went to taught technique. Now, the way to use flavors is something I'm teaching myself. ... I spend time looking at cooked dishes, on different menus at nice restaurants, and try to re-create these cooked foods in raw vegan form and achieve a very similar outcome — it just may not be served hot."
In creating menus, Rice shows a fondness for cleverness. "I like taking classic dishes and deconstructing them and putting them together in new ways, switching them up a little, being creative with them," she says. "For instance, I wanted to make a Caprese salad, instead of tossing mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, I made Caprese skewers — with a basil pesto to dip it in. Or instead of a Waldorf salad, I did a Waldorf salad wrap. I put together romaine lettuce, apples, walnuts and a mayo vinaigrette, wrapped it in large red leaf lettuce tied with a chive, and served it on a plate. A Waldorf typically has grapes in it, but I took them out and juiced them, turned that into a grape-lemon reduction, a sort of syrup, and served that with it."
The events usually overtake interesting surroundings, often with live music. Rice says, "I usually have one long table, with people sitting with people they never met before, so people are having conversations and leaving with new friends. Some people are drawn by that — by meeting new people every time they come."
Guests range in age from their 20s to their 60s, and Rice notes with interest, "I actually get a lot of people interested in raw foods that aren't necessarily 100 percent vegan raw, they're just into new food and trying new things."
The pop-up format also makes sense given the finely tuned fare on offer.
"There's high risk in brick and mortar restaurants," Rice says, "and then when you have a niche food, your risks are even greater. There's a lot more labor involved with raw foods than other cuisines, so the profit margin is extremely low. It's also harder to change the menu all the time. There are so many reasons why it's really difficult to run a successful raw food restaurant. But with Chartreuse, it's low-risk — and lots of fun." —Michael Jackman
To learn more about Chartreuse, see chartreusedetroit.com; to learn about future events, join the mailing list at email@example.com. It's $50 per person, and the next event is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 13 at Tangent Gallery in Detroit.
Almost a year ago, friends April Boyle, Deanne Iovan and Gina Onyx began an experiment: Komodo Kitchen, an Indonesian pop-up restaurant and supper club offered once a month in metro Detroit.
Originally intended as a means to get the word out about Indonesian-born Onyx's cooking, the idea was a gamble. Sure, the growing foodie community in metro Detroit seemed to be hungry for Asian cuisine, but would they be interested in the lesser-known, hard-to-find Indonesian fare? Did they even know where Indonesia was?
If they didn't know before, a year of gustatory education at the talented hands of Boyle, Iovan and Onyx has officially put Indonesian fare on metro Detroiters' culinary map.
With a mailing list of more than 1,000 recipients and growing, Komodo is one of the most popular pop-ups in metro Detroit. These days, tickets for the monthly pop-up can sell out in less than five minutes. According to Onyx, one of the reasons Komodo has been able to sustain its momentum over the past year is because Indonesian fare is so rare in the area — and it doesn't hurt that food enthusiasts are curious eaters with a hankering for exploring exotic flavors.
Not to mention that Indonesian-inspired cuisine seems to lend itself perfectly to the pop-up experience. Comprising more than 13,000 islands, each of which has absorbed a slightly different set of culinary influences from surrounding countries, Indonesia allows Komodo Kitchen's ardent followers a considerably different gastronomic experience with each menu.
And then there's the influence of Onyx, Boyle, and Iovan themselves.
"That's what's so inspiring to me," Boyle says. "There are all these influences and we take it and kind of fuse it with other things. Take desserts, for example. In Indonesia you don't typically eat dessert; they eat fresh fruit. So we do fruit for dessert. We do our 'Sweet Drunken Jack' with a coconut milk. It's like a drink. It's so good. We take the spices and the flavors [used in Indonesia] and marry them with some of the traditional desserts that you find in the U.S. or even France."
Between the culinary island hopping and the fusion of stateside expectations, Komodo Kitchen has no trouble making sure each seating stays fresh and interesting.
Of course, it's not just the food that keeps people coming back—it's the entire experience. An earlier attempt to open an Indonesian art gallery in Birmingham left Onyx with a garage full of authentic Indonesian treasures — silks, intricate aprons, puppets, jasmine and sandalwood incense, Buddhist statues, gongs and other ceremonial instruments — that she now uses to create Komodo Kitchen's traveling pop-up paradise.
"It's like you're buying a ticket to Indonesia, but you're really not," Onyx explains. "It's just two or three hours you're there but you try to get that experience. That's the goal."
Contrary to any speculation, the ladies of Komodo Kitchen do not have plans to open a traditional, brick-and-mortar restaurant. Instead, they are focusing on building the Komodo Kitchen brand, which they hope may eventually lead to product lines or catering opportunities.
"Our goal at the end of the day is to be the first Indonesian product line that you find in the grocery store," Onyx confides. "Right now you've got Indian, you've got Thai Kitchen in America, but there's not Indonesian yet. We want to be the one that is first. And we've already started working on it. That's a good tease, right?" she adds, looking at Boyle and Iovan conspiratorially. —Jackie Rollin
Komodo Kitchen's next pop-up will take place Sunday, Sept. 30, at Pinwheel Bakery in Ferndale. See komodokitchen.com to join the mailing list.
Michael Jackman is senior editor and Jackie Rollin is an editorial intern at Metro Times. Send comments on this piece to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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