The last few years have seen a rise in ‘pop up’ dining and luncheon events. After food trucks, home cooking events seem to be the next wave of innovation and evolution in the food sphere. Home Chefs are opening the doors of their homes to welcome guests or joining hands with restaurateurs to give the experimental diner something new on the menu each time.
Built in 1928, a decaying bungalow in Connaught Place stood vacant for years until a food cognoscente, Rajan Bedi took it over, revamped it and Courtyard by Virasat was born. Today, 34 Hanuman Road is an address known for its pop-up events. Decorated with marigold flowers, pillar candles, huge urns with flower petals and oil-lit traditional brass lamps, the courtyard reverberates with the mystical voices of Sufi Qawwal singers. Under the starry night, the guests swoon to the rhythmic beats of a qawwali and Mughlai food is served. On another day, long tables with chairs are placed in the gardens of the bungalow and the guests enjoy a sit-down luncheon devouring the delicacies of Odisha Cuisine cooked by the talented home chef Sujata Dehury. The venue remains the same, what changes is the decor, the layout, and a different chef each time. Welcome to the age of pop-ups in the food world.
Why are pop up events becoming so popular?
The striking feature of a pop-up event is its flexibility and innovation. They can be hosted anywhere. Not just restaurants but art galleries, bars, bookstores, shops, bungalows or any impressive venue are great places for pop-ups. The main idea is to make it a unique and exclusive experience for the customer. Depending on the theme, a change in decor and ambience can transport a customer to another place. It thus retains its novelty and the surprise element of visiting the venue each time. Since they are ticketed events and normally cater to a handful, the restaurants know the exact number of seats to fill in. It’s easier to examine the logistics. In today’s age of social media, reaching out to customers for these exclusive events is not difficult. This avoids food wastage and lost revenue in case of a no-show by a customer.
Pop up dining experiences are creating a new category of entrepreneurs. Home chefs may have never worked in a commercial chef kitchen, but they are finding these events as challenges to showcase their cooking talent and build their own brand. More importantly, they provide a platform to bring to others traditional recipes that have stayed in homes for generations and regional cuisines that haven’t seen a spillover to other parts of the country.
Varun Ravindranath Rana made a recent entry into the scenario of pop-up events. A fashion journalist by profession, he has worked with Harpers Bazaar and Times Internet. Last November, after much persuasion from his flatmates, he designed a menu for hosting ten people at home and created an event on Facebook. In less than two hours, the slots were full. That is how “Rana ka Khana” was born. After three events at his flat, Rana participated in the first edition of the home chef pop-up series at Olive Qutub where he was highly appreciated. There has been no looking back since. Last week he paired up with Orza, a fine dining space in Ansal Plaza to present a seven-course meal to the guests. Specially selected dishes with Persian, Awadh and Kashmiri influences made by Chef Amir Rai of Orza shared space with simple home recipes that Rana picked up from locals, homes and even villages. As a result, the confluence of the two was an explosion of flavours or “a jugalbandi of tastes”. Orza’s Kashmiri Machhli, Dum Murg ka stew and Pakki Mutton Biryani sat happily next to Rana’s Punjabi Achaari Machhli, Pahadi Jungli Kukkad and Muzzaffarbadi Tehri. The excited customers soaked in this unique dining experience of tasting food from varying cuisines. Champagne glasses clinked, guests intermingled with one another and an intimate atmosphere was created to know the chefs and learn more about food. A great way to promote regional cuisine in a country that has a heritage rich in food. It also presents a great opportunity for home chefs to learn from trained chefs and experience the setting of a professional kitchen.
On the 19th May, Rana hosts another pop-up brunch at a different venue – Karma Kismet in Greater Kailash II with a different theme. This one will be an extensive ten-course brunch where “a love story” of spices will unfurl as the afternoon progresses. Dishes served will have distinct use of five spices – Hing, Imli, Saunf, Kali Mirch and Methi each denoting warmth, sour, sweet, spicy and bitterness respectively.
Unique experiences, varying themes, greater interaction between a chef and guest in a relaxed environment and the spontaneity of making new friends around a shared experience define pop-ups. Two questions, however, loom large. Can pop-ups survive as a concept or will they fade away like any other fad? Can a home chef look at sustaining it as a profession in the long term? I think not. While pop-ups are good at attracting crowds once in a while, too many of them can dull their charm. Home chefs are looking at these pop-ups as learning experiences, to hone their culinary skills and maybe to test waters before they take the leap of running their own kitchen someday. As long as the trend continues, it encourages more and more home chefs to get their regional, heirloom recipes from their pans to our plates. Here’s hoping the pop-ups never stop.
Disclaimer: Picture credits go to Courtyard by Virasat and Orza and have been reproduced with their permission.