WHAT INSPIRES PEOPLE to set up a pop-up cafe?
For Kevin Powell, it was spreading the word about Irish food. For Katie Sanderson, it was showing how delicious healthy plant-based meals could be.
They are among the latest group of pop-up and supper club organisers, following in the footsteps of pop-up event organisers like the Queens of Neon and pop-up restaurant entrepreneurs such as Joe Macken of Crackbird and Skinflint. Ireland has seen pop-ups – either once-off or regular events that take place in unusual settings and often have a quirky theme – emerge as a popular addition to the foodie scene in the past number of years.
From Kilkenny’s food-and-film events at Fennelly’s, to one-off pop-up events held at salubrious locations like Cork’s Bantry House, there are lots of great examples of these fun food events. Some, like Belfast’s Home, started off life as pop-ups with a limited life span, but their popularity led to them becoming a permanent fixture in city’s food scene.
News of the Curd
Kevin Powell told TheJournal.ie he began the News of the Curd events at his home in Dublin’s city centre in 2012, with the aim of creating delicious meals using seasonal Irish food. He and partner Robin Hashino went from one event a week to two, both held at their home.
His work has now grown to the point where he also runs the Gruel Gorilla events at smaller businesses, and holds once-off events every few months.
“I just wanted to showcase Irish producers,” said Powell. A self-taught cook who reads cookbooks for fun, he had, and continues to have, lots of ideas about how he can contribute to a new Irish cuisine at his home dinners.
The events grew in popularity thanks to word of mouth, and Powell’s connections in the food community. He and Robin source their food at local places like Leopardstown Market, and charge 25euro for three courses.
“I wanted it to be for everyone,” said Powell, who doesn’t see his food as ‘exclusive’ or only for people with bulging wallets. At first there were six people feasting in the apartment, now – thanks to an extra dining table – there are 28 people. Powell tries to keep the preparation to the day of the event, so that it’s feasible to do two pop ups a week.
Has he seen the interest in pop-ups growing in the past year?
I've definitely seen a much bigger interest. Much bigger support. When we started it was difficult to get people to a pop up meal - now we book out a week in advance.
Being entirely local can have its issues - like when winter means a severe drop in fruit and vegetables. But in their aim to focus on Irish cuisine, the News of the Curd couple do their best to be original.
They have a lot of regular customers, but many who visit for the first time are international visitors who find out about their dinners on the international pop-up circuit.
Powell doesn't want to make the events "exclusive", and as much as he is growing his food work, the focus still remains on keeping his home dining fun, fresh and affordable. As they celebrate passing the 1200 diner mark, and find their own niche in the pop-up world, Powell says that "it’s starting to come clear what we do".
Food served at Fennellys, a Kilkenny-based pop up food and film event curated by Etaoin Holahan. Photo: Facebook page.
'Raw food' may seem like a strange idea to some, but to those in the know it's a revelatory way of eating. Using fresh, usually organic, fruit, vegetables and sometimes exotic ingredients such as raw cacao, raw dishes like chocolate desserts, wraps, sprouted foods and even lasagnes are created.
At Living Dinners, which has held monthly events so far in Dublin city, chef Katie Sanderson - who also cooks at yoga retreats around Ireland - 'uncooks' delicious, plant-based meals that are good for the heart and the planet.
It was always something that I wanted to do. I loved the whimsical-ness of it - that idea of something existing for only a short moment.
She took a raw food course run by the chef Matthew Kenney in the United States last year. "I really did it on a whim - I didn’t know a lot about raw food. A lot of people really get into the heath benefits. I was also interested in it from a cooking point of view: How do you 'uncook'?"
The best way to test the water in Ireland was to do pop-ups.
At first, she targeted the 'healthy' market, but then she realised who her market really was: people like her, who are into food, and open to new food ideas.
She sees Living Dinners as taking down barriers, and introducing raw food to people in a new way: "We are completely turning it on its head." Sanderson tries to find quirky locations for the dinners, to add to the appeal, rather than holding the meal in existing cafés or restaurants.
She is helped on the night by friends who act as wait staff, and is delighted with the consistently good feedback on the service.
The Living Dinners events feature innovative ideas such as herb boxes on the tables, so that diners can add herbs to their meals. Home Organics supplies the vegetables and the meals are crafted with as much local and organic produce as possible.
Living Dinners. Photo: Oliver Smith
What Sanderson loves about raw food is taking high-quality produce and keeping it "at its most natural form" through using different techniques, such as dehydration, sprouting and fermenting. "At the end of the day you’re not adding in stuff that has been in a factory," she said. "It's just so amazing to be able to do these dishes and keep things in a natural state."
Plus, there are the added health benefits - diners report not feeling weighed down or overly-full at the Living Dinners events, even after the desserts, which Sanderson says are "really decadent and lush and amazing; but they’re actually good for you".
Plus, she caters for plant-based eaters, vegans, vegetarians and coeliacs. Sanderson sees Ireland as having a niche for health food, but one that needs to grow.
For now, she is "totally overwhelmed and so happy" with the success of the pop-up Living Dinners:
It’s just so great, I just love food and it’s just so amazing to see it being so well received.