About a year and a half ago I was looking for a way to meet new people in Jacksonville FL. We had just moved there and knew absolutely no one outside of one or two friends. My mom had the idea,
“invite them to dinner!”
“Strangers! acquaintances, anyone!!”
So we did. My brother’s school coworkers, people we met at the gym, former AirB&B guests, and even neighbors. We invited 12 people who would come eat dinner at the house.
Best decision ever!
Over the last year we’ve met some fantastic people who have become friends, shared stories, danced (the chicken dance) in a sunroom at night, and had some great food along the way. It served as a great way to connect with people, hear their stories, and push forward really creative menus while getting real time feedback on them. Dishes that cannot be found at any restaurant, a truly unique and private experience for a few people at a time.
I fell in love with that concept: Food experiences that cannot be duplicated anywhere else.
Earlier this year we had our first Popup in Miami: Back To Roots Italy & China
While I started in Jacksonville Florida, and that’s where my main kitchen is, friends of ours wanted to host a popup in Miami, in their home. It’s an ambitious challenge when you’re cooking in a foreign kitchen, without all your equipment, and are pushing a theoretical menu that hasn’t been done before.
I was hooked on the idea that Italian food drew a lot if it’s roots from Chinese cuisine: the use of noodles especially became the connective tissue between the two: Jen Lin-Liu, author of On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, with Love and Pasta writes more on this topic
Captivated by this link, and the love of both cuisines which are so rich in ingredients and history. I set out to marry both flavor profiles in 5 dishes.
Egg Rolls Florentine
- Egg rolls, tomato, spinach, basil aioli
Canal Street Salad
- Inspired on the street in Manhattan dividing Chinatown from Little Italy
- Salmon carpaccio and sichuan spice sauce.
Red Short Rib Polenta
- Star Anise, Chinese Sausage, Mushrooms, Red Wine
Green Tea Tiramisu:
- Matcha Matcha Matcha!
Each dish was crafted interlacing ingredients and techniques. Using short rib with star anise and red wine for example worked really well because both are very strong flavors that stand up to the short rib. Especially when it’s braised for 5 hours. The sauce comes out of that is full of umami flavor, the Polenta we served it with soaks up all that sauce and made for a really creamy bite.
The Egg rolls answered a question for me: what would happen if I took that wonderful egg roll outer texture, and stuffed it with bacon, cilantro, mozzarella, and sun-dried tomatoes. Basically a really crunchy mozzarella stick or a really western egg roll with a creamy center. Or a textural croqueta, who knows how to call this.
But how it tasted? Yes, yes yes yes yes! Crunchy, bacony, melted mozzarella creaminess and rehydrated sun-dried tomatoes bring the acidity to make the western version of an Egg Roll. It was awesome!
Every single popup that I’ve been a part of has been an incredible experience to organize. The menus change on theme and availability of ingredients. For guests, since the menu is decided before the meal, it takes away the cost of making a choice,
ie: having to choose between two good options, where even when you like one, you’ll still be thinking about the other one. This format focuses guests only on the whole experience, without distractions as far as food is concerned.
On Designing A Menu:
I am an avid cookbook reader! Especially region specific cookbooks that collect the stories and culinary traditions of the people of the region. My current favorites: Culinaria Spain and Janna Gur’s The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey they cover ingredients, traditions, and techniques that are specific to Spain and Israel.
Using these two books, I see in their recipes that they share very similar ingredients: garlic, honey, olives, fish, lamb. Then it’s a matter of looking at traditional dishes and seeing where the two can marry. Like an olive hummus with pine nuts and honey or salted cod with paprika, golden raisins, garlic and pine nuts tapenade.
Its mostly trial and error but the main approach is finding a new perspective on dishes. Its mostly theoretical, but the pursuit of it and the practice can take the palate into very interesting places.
A BIG thank you!
None of this would have been possible without the gracious help of Luis and Karina Wong who lent me their gorgeous kitchen and their very supportive family: Angel & Nelly, Ana & Adrian, and Jessy & Eloy who helped with the decorations and made this event truly unique.