Pop-ups crop up
These temporary restaurants sell advance tickets and offer offbeat fare here's a look at two of them
Published: September 19, 2012
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Almost a year ago, friends April Boyle, Deanne Iovan and Gina Onyx began an experiment: Komodo Kitchen, an Indonesian pop-up restaurant and supper club offered once a month in metro Detroit.
Originally intended as a means to get the word out about Indonesian-born Onyx's cooking, the idea was a gamble. Sure, the growing foodie community in metro Detroit seemed to be hungry for Asian cuisine, but would they be interested in the lesser-known, hard-to-find Indonesian fare? Did they even know where Indonesia was?
If they didn't know before, a year of gustatory education at the talented hands of Boyle, Iovan and Onyx has officially put Indonesian fare on metro Detroiters' culinary map.
With a mailing list of more than 1,000 recipients and growing, Komodo is one of the most popular pop-ups in metro Detroit. These days, tickets for the monthly pop-up can sell out in less than five minutes. According to Onyx, one of the reasons Komodo has been able to sustain its momentum over the past year is because Indonesian fare is so rare in the area — and it doesn't hurt that food enthusiasts are curious eaters with a hankering for exploring exotic flavors.
Not to mention that Indonesian-inspired cuisine seems to lend itself perfectly to the pop-up experience. Comprising more than 13,000 islands, each of which has absorbed a slightly different set of culinary influences from surrounding countries, Indonesia allows Komodo Kitchen's ardent followers a considerably different gastronomic experience with each menu.
And then there's the influence of Onyx, Boyle, and Iovan themselves.
"That's what's so inspiring to me," Boyle says. "There are all these influences and we take it and kind of fuse it with other things. Take desserts, for example. In Indonesia you don't typically eat dessert; they eat fresh fruit. So we do fruit for dessert. We do our 'Sweet Drunken Jack' with a coconut milk. It's like a drink. It's so good. We take the spices and the flavors [used in Indonesia] and marry them with some of the traditional desserts that you find in the U.S. or even France."
Between the culinary island hopping and the fusion of stateside expectations, Komodo Kitchen has no trouble making sure each seating stays fresh and interesting.
Of course, it's not just the food that keeps people coming back—it's the entire experience. An earlier attempt to open an Indonesian art gallery in Birmingham left Onyx with a garage full of authentic Indonesian treasures — silks, intricate aprons, puppets, jasmine and sandalwood incense, Buddhist statues, gongs and other ceremonial instruments — that she now uses to create Komodo Kitchen's traveling pop-up paradise.
"It's like you're buying a ticket to Indonesia, but you're really not," Onyx explains. "It's just two or three hours you're there but you try to get that experience. That's the goal."
Contrary to any speculation, the ladies of Komodo Kitchen do not have plans to open a traditional, brick-and-mortar restaurant. Instead, they are focusing on building the Komodo Kitchen brand, which they hope may eventually lead to product lines or catering opportunities.
"Our goal at the end of the day is to be the first Indonesian product line that you find in the grocery store," Onyx confides. "Right now you've got Indian, you've got Thai Kitchen in America, but there's not Indonesian yet. We want to be the one that is first. And we've already started working on it. That's a good tease, right?" she adds, looking at Boyle and Iovan conspiratorially. —Jackie Rollin
Komodo Kitchen's next pop-up will take place Sunday, Sept. 30, at Pinwheel Bakery in Ferndale. See komodokitchen.com to join the mailing list.
Michael Jackman is senior editor and Jackie Rollin is an editorial intern at Metro Times. Send comments on this piece to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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