Ming Tan on the joys and tribulations of running a pop-up kitchen
The first couple of hours usually get very sweaty. Inserting, pulling out, squeezing, pushing, deep squatting and grunting. First you thrust the heaviest and bulkiest items into a car boot, things like large end-grain cutting boards, portable induction stoves and stainless steel Italian meat slicers. Then come the long and bulky items that call for some two-handed action – unwieldy hotel pans and sheet trays filled with prepped ingredients, wrapped tightly in clingfilm, all slick and moist with straight-out-of-the-chiller condensation. Empty plastic tubs and receptacles for all manner of utensils, food items and display objects come next. The last few things that go into the company truck/car/donkey caravan are inevitably your laptop, documents for the day (those damn vehicle loading bay access passes), paper napkins and waxed wrappers. As you stand behind your vehicle contemplating the messy round of mobile kitchen jenga you've just played, you feel your wet t-shirt sticking to the small of your back. In goes a change of clothes too, then. Now to drive to some event space, figure out where the craftily hidden loading bay entrance is, and unload everything to a food stand that is invariably at the furthest possible point away.
Feeling like a coolie during the first couple of hours of an event is no fun, but the effort setting up is worth it
In the last year I've had the privilege of participating in a good number of crowded food events, cooking out of mobile kitchens, food trucks, and temporary food stands. These events are hosted by companies with the wherewithal and experience to create short-term, temporary fair-like parties that are often attended by thousands of hungry foodies in a single day. Feeling like a coolie during the first couple of hours of an event is no fun, but the effort setting up is worth it. It is great business on weekends, helps to blood fledgling companies with ideas that need proof of concept, and bolsters the image of an existing establishment looking to solidify its brand. If you have staff to spare, need a tan and your food goes well with napkins, hip-hop and craft beers, the food pop-up is for you and the people that love the things you make.
As an attendee to a mobile food event with some critical mass and good food, it is not hard to flow into a groove and enjoy a most pleasant afternoon. A DJ pumps out a steady beat as you and your friends spill out into the middle of a rooftop or an open space with buzzing groups of people surrounded by enticing smells. A beer appears in everyone's hand, and you decided to divide and conquer this day by splitting up to tackle the queues in the way of tasty, tasty food. Soon your party is full and sated, comfortably feeding off the energy of the crowd long after any space in your belly has disappeared.
We crave the messy and unencumbered street food that does so well at these events, so attractive and free-spirited compared to the structured and technically complex fare we make daily
As chefs, we love these events too. We love that the crowds have grown larger and hungrier for off-site events. We anticipate the next meet and gathering of friendly industry professionals who step away from hardcore fine-dining kitchens into equally hardcore food parties. We crave the messy and unencumbered street food that does so well at these events, so attractive and free-spirited compared to the structured and technically complex fare we make daily. We dream of menus replete with molten cheese, crispy bacon, deep-fried chicken skin, moist barbequed meats and spiked lemonades. And we live for the fact that we can see everyone enjoy this and have a good time, up close and personal at the next food pop-up.