Stevie Parle, the young chef who started his career with The Moveable Kitchen, a sort of transportable ideal of great setting, friendly atmosphere and high quality food. Cooking sometimes for a week, a month and on occasion just for one night, thinks that experience is now playing a bigger role than ever in the way we eat.
The 27-year-old chef, who recently announced anew temporary restaurant in Milan as part of a partnership with Nokia, used pop-ups and his experience gained working at The River Cafe as a way to help form his career. But he thinks that one-off events and the temporary restaurant scene have had a big effect on dining on a whole. "There's this traditional idea of dining, lots of waiters, lots of cutlery and I think it can be quite intimidating. I think it used to be that if people spent a lot of money to eat they wanted that very smart and posh style, but people’s perception of quality has changed fundamentally.
"I started this project in 2006 before we heard all this 'pop-up pop-up' which we seem to get a lot of now. They were called temporary restaurants. We'd take over a space for one night, a week, abandoned swimming pool, greasy spoons that were not open in the evening. A really old house in Shoreditch, a historic Edwardian tailor's house and we would always try to cook a meal that was appropriate to the setting we were using.
"I think the trend in London is that experience is now as important as the food. Looking over at some of the great American restaurateurs in New York who look at the whole experience of dining. Now we have this generation of post pop-up restaurants that have taken some of the best bits and made it into venues that are a bit sharper and still great value for money."
And that's exactly what he's trying to do with his project The Dock Kitchen - a buzzing venue with thematic menus changed bi-weekly, housed in a sleek building that doubles as the design studio for Tom Dixon. A collaboration that may not have come about if it wasn't for Stevie's experience in running pop-ups.
"It was a building that I knew about - a derelict building and I knew this designer was taking over and I wanted to get in and run it for a week or so before he moved in. We couldn't do it but then Tom said: 'this space is too big for me and I don't want a normal studio'.
"We decided just to run from September to Christmas and why would I leave this incredible space and reputation we have built. People can't believe there's this restaurant in an old warehouse near the canal. The dinners still work thematically inspired by a place, a person or region and proudly he says: "People still have to ring a buzzer to get in".
What Stevie mentions, about experience becoming more and more prominent, is true. Even going as far as to say experience can be on a level of importance with the food, is something we're witnessing almost daily at FDL. Secret Restaurants in secret venues all staffed by actors who assume a character and role for the evening. Le Grand Fooding and their 9am dinnersand of course homely supper clubshosted in peoples' front rooms.
They all have one thing in common, a shared experience beyond the plate, a level of participation that is comforting yet excitingly nerve wracking - that moment of meeting new people or being asked by a server to help carry the plates. That is what these events share and it's what Stevie thinks will help the pop-up movement evolve: "We will see people learning from pop-ups and understanding you don't have to spend huge money to open a restaurant, small tight businesses, under railway arches even shipping containers - all places where the experience is very important."
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