A review of our last Popup: Southern By Miami and tips to host your own! I also give you ideas to plan for before, during, and after the event.
The popup was inspired by, (duh) the South! The old glory roots of the French, Spanish, and Creole cuisines that permeated everything south of the Mason-Dixon! The traditional refinery and charm of peaches, bacon, cobblers, Bourbon and the almighty BBQ pits. But beyond traditions of the past, I got inspired by the current movements of the South, where current chefs are reinventing what former chefs, pitmasters, and maitre d’s put before guests.
Chefs like Edward Lee, Charles Gillespie, and the inimitable Regina Charboneau who push rustic elegance as a concept worth pursuing.
i.e: Collards and Kimchi which can be found in Lee’s Smoke & Pickles cookbook.
This menu fell along those lines of inspiration. Pull different ideas against the American South and see what comes out onto the plate.
- Bacon Lollipops
- Corn fritter, Candied Bacon, Bourbon syrup.
- Fall Pumpkin Spice Soup
- Think autumn and pumpkin everything, add more pumpkin and bacon, a little mint- a little joy in winter.
- Carrot Hummus
- Carrots, Tahini, Garlic, olive oil. With Pita chips and goat cheese yogurt.
- Charleston Red Rice with Rustic Roast Chicken
- The lowcountry version of Jambalaya, sweet tomatoes, brown sugar, bacon, and bourbon.
- Bourbon Banana Pudding
Tips for hosting a popup
As much as a popup is an expression of our vision, it could not happen without the hosts who share their venues with us. From art galleries, warehouses, gardens, and restaurants, to their own homes to share a private experience with friends and loved ones. And while the cooking is left to the chefs, it is important to organize and plan every detail of the event.
Here is my thought process to plan for popups from start to finish:
Pick a theme!
popups are a reason for celebration, they bring people and food together! So make the food a focal point about something you want to focus on:
ie: Oktoberfest, Contemporary Southern, Greek Orthodox Cuisine, Dishes from ancient Jerusalem, Famous Last Meals… you get the point. At a popup- food becomes about something else. It becomes the show and the way to convey the theme of the night. I bring the example about Oktoberfest because I’ve never been to Germany’s festival, but I was curious by the idea and wanted to eat the food. At our Oktoberfest popup last year we had homemade pretzels, beer cheese soup, and even a guinness cake to match the occasion. The point is to have fun with this!
Before the event
Set the guest list: I like to keep popups within a manageable number. Less than 20 is optimal as you can devote time to your dishes and you have enough time to interact with everyone involved. For our events, I normally put 5 dishes on the menu, and each has to be flawless, in that night if I have 20 guests times 5 courses, I know that I’m serving 100 total dishes that night. It’s a lot of work so the limited guest list maximizes quality.
Fall Pumpkin Spice Soup ta-da!
Invitations: People lead busy lives! And for the most part, will make plans a week or two in advance. Tell your guests at least 2 weeks in advance about the event and details for them to look forward to. If it’s a paid event, include the price. Include the menu as well, if your guests are allergic to something, they should know the food ahead of time out of consideration to their needs.
Decorations: Keep it simple! White tablecloths or placemats, for a more rustic look, go a long way in adorning the table. Mason Jars with flowers, or vases help bring another level of visual interest. Not everything has to match, its ok if you dont have the same china for 20 guests! Mix and match, have guests keep their utensils. This is all about the food and sharing together.
As you are hosting, and the guests arrive, not everyone may know one another. I’ve had dinners where guests have never met and are sitting down to dinner together. They need a point of conversation, or at least something to talk about and break the ice. Its a good idea to pass around drinks before the food starts. In my events, even when I’m in the kitchen getting everything ready, I come out and greet the guests, explaining what the theme of the night is, what they can expect, and what a popup is.
You can serve dishes family style, plated, or a combination of the two. Again, the rule is, simple! Whatever will make your life easier! I’ve served Charleston Red Rice on the plates to my guests and the accompanying Rustic Roast Chicken was served on its cast iron skillets: partly for decoration, but mostly because I wanted the chicken to leave the oven at the last minute, and taking 20 plates of chicken to guests would make it cold. Also, it’s chicken, you don’t know what your guests will like: thigh, breast, wings or how much- let them decide that.
Explain the food! If you cooked it, why did you choose those dishes, how do they tie into the theme of the night? Your guests came because they want to eat and know too! In our popups, during every course, I come out and explain to the guests while they are eating: keep it short, but just cover what it is, how it was made, and what sort of flavors they should note.
ie: “the carrot hummus in front of you was made especially for tonight, a blend of middle eastern influences and american ingredients. You can taste the carrots, tahini, and garlic notes. It’s an experimental dish looking to redefine what a hummus is. Please enjoy!”
Dishwashers are your best friends here! But even you have one, odds are not everything will fit at the same time. Best practice is to hire a person for the night to help with this task, and leave you the time to talk more with your guests.
If you don’t know everyone, get their contact information. I like to collect their emails to send them a thank you note for coming, it helps create a good relationship and cultivate a following for the next time.
If you would like to host a private popup: let’s talk here!
A little about me
I’m a chef and a former psychologist. I spent years studying how we experience food to make the best eating experiences possible- and I show you how to eat well on this site. I host secret popups in Miami, FL teaching people how to approach good food that’s never been done before.