The Art of Pop-Up

ROAM THROUGH THE STREETS of bustling cities across the U.S. such as Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco, and you’ll find a wave of foodies and eclectic chefs satiating themselves away from the “traditional” restaurant model. The buzz surrounding the no-longer illusive (yet still evolving) pop-up restaurant is all the eatery rage. And it’s a good thing.

As the avant-garde of “underground” food frenzies, pop-ups can essentially be defined as thus: A temporary restaurant installation that encourages unique talent and contemporary flair without having to dish out the weighty capital-and commitment of a long-term concept-into a permanent location.

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Martha Cheng and chef Andrew Le have collaborated to introduce one of Hawai’i’s first pop-up restaurants, The Pig and the Lady, this past June. Didn’t hear about it? That’s part of the allure.

“Pop-up restaurants have been popular on the Mainland for some time, as a way for up-and-coming chefs to get their cuisine out there, or for well-known chefs to do something different or unexpected,” Cheng says. “I thought it was the perfect vehicle for Honolulu to connect interested, adventurous diners with talented chefs, such as Andrew Le, who has years of experience and most recently left his Chef Mavro sous chef position to start The Pig and the Lady.”

Having taken residency during off-hours at Hank’s Haute Dogs (324 Coral St., Kaka’ako), The Pig and the Lady seats 22 people in communal style-another typical trait of the pop-up concept.

“It may not be a romantic, intimate dinner, but it’s often a lively one with a lot of interaction with the chef,” Cheng explains, pointing out that the trend’s undercurrent is to inspire new conversation and meet new people.

The Pig and the Lady website (thepigandthelady.com) is updated regularly, allowing diners to book reservations and view the menu. Priced at $55 per person (with a glorious BYOB addendum), recent five-course menus have included dishes that nod to Le’s native Southeast Asian techniques.

“It’s hard to say what future menus will look like-it’s whatever is going to inspire me at that time and place, really. There’s a lot of cuisines I’d like to cook-Indian, Mediterranean, Moroccan, Lebanese, Provençal, Basque, Spanish, Szechuan. We’re playing with the possibility of an a la carte menu as well,” says Le, a Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., graduate. “But that’s the beauty-we can constantly reinvent ourselves.”

A SIDE OF JAZZ WITH YOUR ENTRÉE

Another pop-up model/food rave breathing fresh life into the local food scene is “Eat, Play, Love,” an innovative cooking event featuring live cooking demonstrations by five-star chef Windy Gerardi and beautiful music by The Groove Ensemble, meant to invigorate multiple senses.

Gerardi and longtime friend Malia Mathis, lead singer of The Groove Ensemble, founded the initiative this past January out of mutual passions. The first event was held at Ko Olina this summer to the theme of summer grilling and hot jazz, where Gerardi taught guests how to grill the perfect ribeye and the proper techniques to roasting peppers, corn and other vegetables, while the band-consisting of Mathis, Ethan Capone and Ricardo Diaz-provided smooth sounds.

“We’re taking the fear out of cooking and teaching people real simple techniques that they can use on a regular basis,” explains Gerardi, a Kona native. After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco, Gerardi traveled the world as a private chef for renowned celebrities such as the late Michael Jackson, among others.

“People love to learn about food, and love to learn in general. We love the mystery of the venue always shifting and changing,”

“The menu caters to the venue, really,” Gerardi adds. “We like the idea that if we’re at a French bistro then we can have a French menu and offer a nice jazzy vibe. We can go in many different directions-Cuban, Asian, etc. Everything is fluid, everything is always evolving, never constant. When you join forces of music, food and wine it just turns into this really unique and whimsical experience. Who doesn’t love that?”

Fueled by technology, Eat, Play, Love has gained quite a following, through their VIP email list.

SIMPLE FARE FOR THE LOCAVORE

One of the newest pop-ups on the scene quickly sold out its first few seatings. Plancha, helmed by Chef Bob McGee (Apartm3nt, 12th Ave. Grill, Salt), seats 20 eager foodies every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evening at the location known during daylight hours as Morning Glass Coffee & Café (2955 East Manoa Road).

“We want to serve simple, fresh, local fare,” McGee says ahead of his first dinner, a special “nose-to-tail” menu featuring Shinsato Farms. Other recent menu items have included akule, produce from Ho Farms, local quail egg and cheese from Naked Cow Dairy.

“I’ll post menus up about a week before, and I’m focusing on micro-seasonal items so that everything can be as fresh as possible,” he says.

Dinners will generally include four to five courses (however McGee reserves the right to switch things up and serve up some meals family-style). The cost is about $45 per person, BYOB. “I’m terribly excited about Plancha,” McGee says. Judging from the response, Honolulu diners are too.

For more information on The Pig and the Lady, visit thepigandthelady.com.

For more information on Eat, Play, Love and to be placed on the VIP list, email EATplayLOVE2011@hotmail.com.

For more information on Plancha, visit planchahonolulu.blogspot.com.

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