We're going to let you in on a little secret: we're not the only pop-up dining series in the game. Oh, you knew that? Right. Well, it does seem normal that someone who enjoys our events has probably taken it upon themselves to find others hosting something similar. And perhaps they found someone else before they found us. Pop-up dining is a relatively new concept, and what's good for one of us is usually good for all of us. More awareness that these types of experiences are out there is like a rising tide that lifts all boats (and yes, now we're quoting JFK).
Lucky for us, we don't look at O.P.P. as our competition. We think the more pop-ups folks attend, the more they'll find the thing that they love about them: be it the chance to sit at a communal table and meet other folks just as adventurous as them (the BEST folks), the chefs that get to go well outside the lines and get super creative with menus, or just the fact that they've been part of something that, once it's gone, it's gone, and no one else will get to do exactly that again. Luckier for us, this means we get to rationalize spending our time and money attending other people's pop-ups.
Our first big foray into O.P.P. was in Los Angeles last year, at Wolvesmouth. The most famous example of a secret dinner you could imagine, Craig Thornton's by-donation dining series had just moved from the downtown loft it inhabited since before the epic New Yorker feature to a very cool and well-equipped house/restaurant in Silver Lake. In Craig's singular style ("violence and beauty," per this documentary), everything was incredibly delicious, and dishes served in rapid succession looked less and less like recognizable food and more like works of Jackson Pollock. We're now dying to try out Disco Dining Club, after hosting founder Courtney at one of our LA events, and catching her on Bravo's web series on pop-ups, Going Off The Menu.
In Portland, Oregon, we were lucky to sit down with both Naomi Pomeroy and John Gorham, whose pop-ups Ripe Family Supper (in 2001) and Simpatica Dining Hall (in 2003), respectively, precluded their ascent to two of the most respected and successful chefs in the biggest little food town in America. Nice little history lesson for us.
In Chicago, the founder of Open Circuit Dining came to dinner, and now we can't wait to check out their food-as-art concept. We've been keeping an eye on this summer's Saved By The Bell pop-up, too, with its mountains of press. You do you, Chicago. Don't anyone let you tell you you're strange.
Detroit is a huge city for pop-ups, too, as interesting and available real estate abounds. Revolver in Hamtramck, Kate Williams' Lady of the House previews, and George Azar's Flowers of Vietnam, held in the back of a hot dog shop, are on the top of our list.
And of course we couldn't skip mentioning the grandaddies of traveling pop-ups, Dîner en Blanc & Jim Denevan's Outstanding in the Field. Since 1999, OITF has been planting their extra-long table in fields, farms, vineyards, and beaches to great acclaim. We'll get to one when our travel schedules align, one of these days. Dîner en Blanc, is a bit different than many others in that you create your own experience. You're in charge of your own food, your own tables, your own chairs, your own wine... It's a bit of work, so the snootiest often poo-poo the whole affair. As a result, they usually end up being quite exciting, elegant, and certainly all-inclusive evenings.
Three years ago, respected food writer Matt Duckor argued in Bon Appétit that the pop-up dining trend should go curl up and die. He grumpily chastised pop-up chefs for using too many ingredients, hosts for failing to fill waters, and spaces for not having proper air ventilation. He proclaimed from his comfortable perch as a well-paid journalist that in order to be taken seriously, a dining experience needs to have more on the line: multi-year leases, management school, people's reputations and fortunes at stake, to merit patronage and review. Restaurants are great, and we're glad critics can make a living eating at and assessing them. People will never stop going to restaurants. But restaurants often fail, due to many of the challenges Matt (and more recently David Chang) laid out.
When you know exactly how many people are coming through the door each night, you know just what you'll be serving them (because there's no lengthy menu to peruse, and as such no guessing games involved in sourcing), and your lease is a set rate for a finite period (of one weekend, for us). In this model, there's less waste, more sustainability. When our guests exchange email addresses, tag one another in Instagrams, and hug us enthusiastically after their meal, vowing to come back (and then do), we think we're onto something, even without all that important risk and pedigree.
So here's a toast to O.P.P. Keep fighting the good fight, y'all!
(Cover Photo) Dîner en Blanc - Photo Credit: Joe Cavallini