Audrey Hepburn’s iconic little black dress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s or the mid-80s Madonna’s club kid look, a mini skirt layered on top of coloured leggings with 600 rubber bracelets on her wrists and her trademark hair ribbon? A fashion trend or a fad? This is what I try to figure out whenever I go for a pop-up event. Will the concept thrive with increasing number of people embracing it or will it temporarily stir some excitement in the food sphere before fading away into oblivion? According to the Godrej Food Trends 2018, this year will see an explosion of pop up events and emergence of home chefs.

Unrestricted by boundaries

Like tiny bubbles of champagne in a flute that release their distinctive smell and flavour into the drinker’s nose, the pop-up events emerge temporarily and offer a sensorium of experiences. They can be set up anywhere – bungalows, cinemas, bookshops, stores, art galleries or even a warehouse. They’re makeshift arrangements, innovative and flexible. The event can be hosted for a day or have a buttery spread over weeks. Unlike restaurants that serve specific cuisines, pop-up venues can keep changing the menus, chefs, themes and even the decor each time. And therein lies the reason for its popularity. They are not formulaic.

Specially curated menus, cosy settings where a group of guests mingle with each other define pop-up events. (Pic Courtesy: Courtyard By Virasat

A commodious old bungalow in Delhi’s bustling Connaught Place area lay barren for years until it was revamped and Courtyard by Virasat was born. Today, it gets home chefs to host culinary pop-ups, either in the lawns or in its courtyard. Seated around the table, guests mingle with each other and an intimate atmosphere is created. Rajan Bedi, a food cognoscente and host of Courtyard by Virasat says, “It’s a home away from home. The venture was started to encourage home chefs to come to the limelight as well as offer different regional cuisines to an experiential diner. Food served is not clinically cooked, rather it is made with sheer love and recipes that have stayed in our homes for generations.”

An Odisha meal prepared by Home Chef Sujata Dehury at a pop-up event at Courtyard By Virasat. (Pic. Courtesy: Courtyard By Virasat)

On Nobho Borsho, culinary expert Sharmila Sinha opened the doors of her Chittaranjan Park house to welcome strangers to enjoy the Bengali New Year in a special ticketed event. We sat on the floor and feasted on the “Ekush Byanjon Mahabhoj”  ( A feast of twenty-one dishes) that used to be cooked for the Zamindars of Bengal years ago. How time flew no one came to know. There was chitter chatter, stories told of the yore and new friendships formed. I had gone alone but by the time I left I had a better understanding of the Bengali cuisine, the festival and a few phone numbers of some wonderful people.

The “Ekush Byanjon Mahabhoj” prepared by the culinary expert, Sharmila Sinha for a Bengali pop-up event on Nobo Borsho

The Emergence of Home Chefs  

In a country as vast as ours, where the rich cuisines of each state are different from the other, the cooking talent has remained restricted to homes. Not only do pop-up events provide the opportunity to home chefs to step out of their kitchens but also give them the confidence to showcase their culinary talent. Dining events provide them with an opportunity to do a test run before opening their own restaurants. They can learn all the aspects of a kitchen like handling the staff, equipment, menu planning and kitchen management. In 2014, Munaf Kapadia started The Bohri Kitchen with his mother in Mumbai, as a weekend pop up at his Cuff Parade home. From a humble start of home dining to a delivery and catering business today, that has a turnover of eight figures, his is a success story that found him a place in the Forbes 30 under 30, 2017.

Why are Pop-Ups important for the entire ecosystem of the food world?

In another event in Orza, Chef Varun Rana of Rana Ka Khana shares food stories with his guests. (Pic. Courtesy: Orza)

Pop-ups are turning out to be the modern-day dining theatre which keeps moving to different streets, towns, cities and even countries. It breaks all barriers. They are dynamic in nature where the chefs travel from one venue to another, carrying their family recipes and local ingredients to provide unique food experiences to the guests. The pop-up artists are great storytellers too, weaving stories into the dishes they create. Like the history of the yesteryears used to get documented through folklore and songs from one generation to the next, pop-ups are a great way to archive heirloom recipes, traditions, different methods of cooking, various spices, vegetables and fruits. The chefs interact with the guests, share their food stories and acquaint them to the folklore and traditions of their region. Nonchalantly, they’re playing a vital role in creating awareness and bridging gaps between people and places. When the food writer and historian Anoothi Vishal takes her “Kayastha Khatirdari” festival abroad, she doesn’t only carry the five-hundred-year-old cuisine with her but also the history, family recipes, anecdotes, memories and stories of the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb of India.

Opening the Window to a Different World

For the food lovers, pop-ups are a great way to try the cuisine of a place they have never heard of, or perhaps they’ll never travel to. In a regionally vast country like India, a person born and bought up in Chennai may never travel to another town or village in North East India yet wonder how a red ant chutney in a picture of a magazine actually tastes. Pop-Ups provide that platform to bring across community foods of India and present them in various ways. They offer life-enriching experiences, bring like-minded people together who bond over food and create a sense of exclusivity since they are premium events.

Are Pop-Ups here to stay?

On the face of it, Pop-Ups seem to be perfect. Yet, there are many factors that need to be kept in mind to make it a success. While the unfolding of these curated events may appear serendipitous, there’s a painstaking effort that goes behind in its coordination. It requires immense planning, proper quality control and each element to be strung together in a manner that keeps the mystical aura of Pop-Ups alive.

While one Munaf Kapadia success story is not enough and maybe we need more stories as these to give confidence to home chefs to take the plunge, it seems that the pop-up culture is here to stay and will continue to grow. It’s an exciting time and I look forward to many more home chefs coming forward with their special regional cuisines and laying them on our tables. As I end, I express a deep desire to taste the Garhwali, Bohri and North-Eastern cuisine in the upcoming days.

Are any home chefs listening?

Note: This post is a part of the Godrej Food Trends Blogging contest hosted by Fashionablefoodz in association with Vikhroli Cucina and should not be repurposed, republished or used otherwise. The content herein is owned by the blogger. Godrej Food Trends Blogging contest, Fashionablefoodz or Godrej is not responsible for any kind of Infringement caused.

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