Jordan Collins, the events director of the Tasting Collective - a private dining club community that hosted chef-led tasting events at independently-owned restaurants prior to the pandemic - is now also head of development of Chefstreams, “which offers live-streaming cooking classes on Zoom with acclaimed chefs from all over the country”.
“People want to go out more and more these days. I think that desire will become increasingly stronger as people begin to receive their boosters [jabs]. At this point, everyone is really craving normalcy in their everyday lives and will do whatever they need to get it,” says Collins, as the Tasting Collective starts to resume in-person pop-up events.
“The downturn in the hospitality industry forced chefs to get creative and find new ways to earn a living, hence the significant increase in chef residencies and pop-ups. One of the major advantages of a chef pop-up is that it allows the chef to make money and get their feet wet into a new concept without fully committing to a brick-and-mortar location. I've seen a lot of recent success with these popups, especially in New York, as many of them have been able to transition into permanent ventures, like Kjun, Dacha 46, and Pecking House.”
As a chef, participating in residencies has largely been a boon to me, especially in the aftermath of my restaurant closure. They have brought me income with low to no overhead, which I used to launch Poi Dog’s line of retail sauces, which are now carried in stores across the U.S., and which I also use my residencies to promote.
I’ve also seen a shift away from this model by those who based their pre-pandemic careers around it. Prior to the pandemic, Yana Gilbuena, the San Francisco-based itinerant chef of SALO Series, would travel “all over the world to bring the gospel of Filipino food through Kamayan dinners, where diners would eat with their hands. I was popping up everywhere. I [had just] finished my New Zealand and Australian pop-up tour [and] my European tour.” She describes her past year as “introspective” – “it was out of my comfort zone to be in one place, so I leaned into it. I heeded my own advice to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. I’ve been working on the cookbook version 2.0. I’ve been doing virtual cooking demos. I’ve been concentrating on my next phase…traveling and encouraging diners to eat with their hands is still a 5-year plan.”
Gilbuena, who defined ambitious pop-ups and residencies, essentially switched places with chefs who had previously been tied to their own kitchens. As for what she thinks about how the pandemic will affect the world of pop-ups and guest chef-ing, she muses: “There will be more ‘vetting’ and [we] will see an alignment of values and visions. I think pop-ups are here to stay. [They’ve] been a safe platform haven for folks who don’t have access to a lot of capital to explore their food dreams with little overhead.”
In essence, the uncertainty of the pandemic kicked off a persistent trend in the food world, just as the uncertainty following the financial crisis of 2008 gave rise to leaps into entrepreneurship via food trucks – a bandwagon, I had also jumped on in 2013, as Poi Dog originated as a food truck.
Ted Golden, who goes by the moniker Foodie Buddha, has brought chefs (including me) from around the world to cook in restaurants in Atlanta, Georgia, and he sees pop-ups as a model that will continue beyond the pandemic. “Traveling and delicious food are critical to my life and the pandemic has, if anything, emphasised that for me. Even in the best of times, not everyone has the chance to travel and eat. I think that by bringing these chefs to these new locales, you give people an opportunity to try something they wouldn’t otherwise be able to try.”
Alysa Osborne cooking at Poi Dog
Ian Boden, the chef-owner of the 22-seat restaurant The Shack in Staunton, Virginia, echoes and expands upon this sentiment, as he sought to bring in chefs to collaborate with in his restaurant. “I’m 43, I don’t have the energy to stage at other people’s restaurants, so this is a way to bring the stage experience to me. There’s an exchange that happens between cooks in a kitchen of ideas and intent – that’s more valuable to me than making more money. It’s an education for me and for my staff, and I hope the guest chef leaves learning something from us.”
“I think we’re going to see more pop-ups. Despite federal funding… we’re going to see a lot of collateral losses. There are going to be a lot more talented people without kitchen homes. It’s a great way to generate interest in future projects…it’s how The Shack started. It was a space for me to do pop-ups until opening a real-sized restaurant… and then there was no turning back.”