Diary of a Pop-Up

Diary of a Pop-Up

Yesterday I awoke at 7 am. For the last two weeks, Chef, who lives upstairs from me, has taken me to the farmers’ market with him. But today he was going to get a few items for the pop-up restaurant he’s doing this week in Hollywood. For the uninitiated  a pop-up is a restaurant within a restaurant. In this case, the restaurant that operates there on a daily basis does a thriving breakfast and lunch business, then closes up for the rest of the day. So at 4 pm Chef and his crew will come in, set up our stations, and within an hour, we’ll be ready to serve a five-course dinner.

It’s a pretty smart gig, in this case costing very little overhead (no rent), just the food costs and the labor of the chefs.

The labor part is hard to put a dollar sign on. I followed Chef to the market, waited while he was interviewed by the food show on our local NPR station, accompanied him to a seafood distributor downtown and then on to his friend Chef Alaska’s house where we were joined by another friend, Chef Xena. The four of us cooked from around 11 am to 10 pm. Let me add that Chef and Alaska had been working the entire previous day.

We started off with a shot of rum chased by Fever Tree ginger beer. Then the clock started and we were off. We made a kind of pistachio crumble that Chef had never made before but for which he had an idea in his head: he would sandwich it between layers of white chocolate and freeze it into a bark to put on the dessert. “Like a cookie bar, ” he said, “but with yummy pistachio goodness instead of gross cookies.”

Chef whisked together an orange blossom honey mixture with gelatin so that today we will shoot it through a device that will make it into foam. Aside from just being more fun than a water gun fight, it’s also gonna taste amazing: sweet and floral as a midsummer day.

For hours I took the tips off little mini broccoli called broccoli di cecco, so that you, dear diner, won’t see the blunt and browned end caused by the clippers they used in the field. The parts that weren’t perfect enough to serve as little broccoli garnishes went into a nearly florescent green broccoli puree later that evening.

Sometime in the midst of all this, my energy waned and I started to shake. Never fear: Alaska whipped me up a bowl of barley risotto like the dish we’ll be serving tonight. He topped it with a good, sweet olive oil and wilted broccoli leaves. I sucked it shamelessly down.

Alaska finished making a red wine butter for the sturgeon that Chef had started the night before. He made a mushroom broth and a dozen other things.

Chef and Xena left for a while to make pâte à choux and when they came back we dove into sausage making – seafood blood sausage, that is. We stuffed twenty feet of casing with a combination of scallop mousse and chopped shrimp and then, for the blood, Chef added squid ink and a spice mix he’d made at home containing the traditional ingredients for blood sausage like allspice and nutmeg and cloves. You can see from the pictures how “gangster” it looked (Chef’s word.)

Before we went home, Chef and Alaska cooked off one of the soufflés. It turned out beautifully, looking like a foamy cup of cappuccino. Wait until you see what we’re going to do to it table-side. Oh yeah, you’re gonna wanna see.

Though I had met Alaska once before, I really only knew Chef when I arrived. But by the time we left, I felt like part of their family, indoctrinated by rum, stories and the skills to make a dozen new and delicious dishes.

The scary part is what comes next. Although Chef (who I can hear stirring now in the flat above me) is probably totally chillin’, I feel like an actor waking on the first day of a performance: shot through with adrenaline and terrified of going on stage.