Pop-ups keep cropping up
More glimpses of a new dining format
Published: September 26, 2012
Aja characterizes the dishes as elegant but not pretentious. "We're not manipulating ingredients too much. Of course, we accommodate special requests much like a restaurant, if people are cool with waiting five or 10 minutes for a plate of food. We'll have everything on one plate, usually an entrée with a little side salad or a dessert."
Keeping it simple is important, Aja says. "When you're out at a venue, at someone's house, you have to be able to pull off all your ideas. You can challenge yourself, but it's best not to be masochistic about it. There are things you have to avoid, because, you know, we have to do all the dishes, and logistically you're hauling all this stuff to somebody's house or some venue. And if you're in someone's house, you're there from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and you want to make it easy on them too."
And those logistics need to be tight, and not just to make the most money, but to avoid wasted food.
Aware of how much food gets tossed in a traditional restaurant, Eisele says, "That's why we only take RSVPs, so we don't have a lot of waste. When you're involved with food from seed to the dining room, you realize how much work goes into it, so you don't want to waste anything."
In their purest form, pop-ups are simply a way to offer one niche, healthful meal a week. Take a look, for instance, at the Dunch Club. The brainchild of Lindsay Jewell, the group has been up and running since last summer, offering metro Detroiters seasonal, vegan, gluten-free, mostly organic and local, food lovingly prepared.
"I've been a vegetarian for years," Jewell says, "and also wanted to do a food thing but didn't even know I could. I was volunteering at Spirit of Hope [a Christian community with a full kitchen and permaculture farm]. I'd be there in the kitchen, cooking hardcore for myself for a couple years because I had to give up eating a lot of things. I was in there so much that I thought it would be great if I could make my food and make it for others at the same time.
"At the same time they had a big food conference last May at Eastern Market. Jess Daniel was up there cooking with us in the kitchen and I got to talking with her about what she was doing [with pop-up Neighborhood Noodle]. And I thought, 'Wow, somebody can move here, open up a noodle shop in their own house and make it rock? If she can do it, I can do it.'"
Jewell started the Dunch Club in June 2011, working out of the kitchen at Spirit of Hope. A few months ago, Jewell moved out of that space — which still does its own Thursday lunch club — into North End Studio on the near west side. Though some guests come to dine in, the Dunch Club offers a small but expanding meal delivery service around metro Detroit, including the Grosse Pointes, Royal Oak, Ferndale and Madison Heights. Jewell soon plans to expand the operation to downtown.
Jewell emphasizes serving local food when possible, saying, "The food that comes from close is best for us as far as our carbon footprint goes, as well as helping the local economy by spending our money here to keep it here."
Jewell works with local growers, including produce from Brother Nature, Grown in Detroit and Feedom Freedom Farm, and organic, local grains, beans and lentils from Hampshire Farms.
And local produce means seasonal dishes. Jewell says, "The squashes are starting to come out in a couple months, and there are only two months when you don't have sweet potatoes. In summer-spring we'll have strawberries and asparagus, and we've had lots of melons coming out in the last couple weeks. When it gets to be winter, it's a little more difficult: We get heavy on squash, cabbage, beets and turnips. I love when the season comes around in late spring and early summer and Brother Nature's greens come out. There's always great food — our state is one of the most agriculturally diverse in the nation."
What ultimately drives Jewell is the health aspect of eating. She says, "I think food is medicine. If we all start to eat better — the more green vegetables, the more beans, the more fruits — the less likely we are to have arteriosclerosis, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes. All these killers are being enabled by the standard American diet. That's something a lot of people don't know. I mean, I didn't know. So I want to help people save themselves from those situations."
That said, Jewell strives to serve food that's approachable and flavorful. "I do use oil and salt and things like that," she says, "but I think it's balanced out by taking in that volume of fresh foods. I serve a combination of raw and cooked, although I've upped the raw since I saw a film on raw knocking out diabetes. But there's always something cooked that's a little more comforting too."
When it comes to flavor, Jewell is fond of mixing things you wouldn't necessarily have together. "Basically I go into the market and go around and start picking up whatever is looking awesome that day, grabbing a few things then asking what's going to be good with what. It's something different every week." Sometimes the results are extremely unusual and surprisingly popular.
"Earlier this summer," she says, "I did a broccoli-lime-jalapeño-blueberry marinated salad with toasted cumin seed — and the sweet and hot and broccoli and everything, and the way it mixed together, people were into it, and I actually got a few catering orders for it."
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