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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pop-up Dinners: Meet Your Meal Makers

John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist
Hobby Farms Contributors

It's the ultimate for a farmsteadtarian: going out on the town for a sumptuous dinner. Pop-up dinners make fine dining all the more fun and delicious.

Table at Happy Girl Kitchen's pop-up dinner
Guests browse the menu at Happy Girl Kitchen's pop-up dinner.

Once in a while, it's great to let someone else do the cooking. The growing number of pop-up dinners throughout the country is providing just the kind of dining experience we crave. At a pop-up dinner you reserve a spot at a communal table within eyeshot of the chef. Perhaps you dine with the cheese maker or farmer who made or grew what you're about to eat and sample wines poured by the vintners themselves. The one we attended during while traveling for the EcoFarm Conference in California was hyper-local, organic and vegetarian, too.

Chefs Matt Millea and Jacob Pilarski cooking for pop-up dinner at Happy Girl Kitchen
Chefs Matt Millea (left) and Jacob Pilarski (right) prepare the pop-up meal in eye's view of 50 guests.

Happy Girl Kitchen owners Todd and Jordan Champagne invited us to savor Chefs Matt Millea and Jacob Pilarski 's culinary creations at the pop-up dinner held at the Champagnes’ Happy Girl Cafe in Pacific Grove, Calif.

Chefs Jacob Pilarski and Matt Millea prepare the meal for the pop-up dinner at Happy Girl Cafe
Despite the logistics involved in setting up for the pop-up dinner, the chefs prepared a delicious, farm-fresh meal.

While there were a few logistics involved in transforming this cafe and canning-preserving commercial kitchen into a space to serve and seat 50 for dinner, it didn't involve the drama that other pop-up dinners undergo as the chefs prepare a meal in less-conducive spaces in other parts of the country.

Onions stuffed with hominy, nettle and plum jam
Onions stuffed with hominy, nettle and plum jam

Happy Girl Cafe's pop-up dinner blew our taste buds off! Who knew that nettle—that prickly weed that's right smart if you brush up against it— could taste so fine with hominy and wrapped in a layer of onion?

Chef Matt Millea seving chantrelle mushrooms with apple, leek, greens and walnuts
Chef Matt Millea serves up chantrelles mushrooms with apple, leek, greens and walnuts.

And they served chanterelles that melted in our mouth.

Chefs superhero sidekicks helping out with the pop-up dinner at Happy Girl Cafe
The chefs enlisted help to prepare our seven-course meal.

Artistically mastered by Millea, Pilarski and their superhero sidekicks, our seven-course dinner spotlighted Serendipity Farm, a certified-organic farm owned by Jamie Collins.

Jamie Collins of Serendipity Farm with other pop-up dinner guests at Happy Girl Kitchen
Jamie Collins of the certified-organic Serendipity farm provided veggies for the pop-up dinner.

It turns out, Jamie (pictured above in the blue and maroon shirt) and Lisa first met when they were both providing testimony in Washington, D.C., as part of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program launch a few years ago.

Goat's Eye Beans with preserved tomato pea tendrils and onion; jamalade tarts
Goat's eye beans with preserved tomato, pea tendril and onion (left); jamalade tarts (right)

The $55 prix-fixe dinner celebrated everything a meal should be: local food, from sustainable farms and artisanal producers, shared by a convivial gathering of people. Everything was savored slowly. It turned the notion of pretentious fine dining on its head and provided a direct link to our growers, producers and the chefs themselves, who we watched busily working their craft in the kitchen.

broccoli, romanesco and Brussels sprouts; Little gem lettuce served with beet, celeriac, chevre and seaweed
Broccoli, romanesco and Brussels sprouts with apple and Meyer lemon (left); Little Gem lettuce, beet and celeriac with chevre and seaweed (right)

The sumptuous menu, served family style, featured the following:

  • Little Gem lettuce, beet and celeriac with chevre and seaweed
  • Goat’s Eye beans with preserved tomato, pea tendril and onion
  • onions stuffed with hominy, nettle and plum jam
  • broccoli, romanesco and Brussels sprouts with apple and Meyer lemon
  • Chanterelle mushrooms with apple, leek, greens and walnuts
  • jamalade tart
  • Charlie Cascio cheese
  • Blue Bottle coffee
Wine from Heller Estate Organic Vineyard; Charlie Cascio's cheese
Wine from Heller Estate Organic Vineyards (left); Charlie Cascio cheese (right) 

Besides many of the vegetables coming from Serendipity Farms, the certified-organic preserved tomatoes, blood orange marmalade and plum jam came from Happy Girl Kitchen itself. The artisanal cheese came from the Big Sur homestead of Charlie Casio. No spectator, Casio shared conversation and passed the plates of food along to Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser, who shared a seat at his table. The organic wines, paired with nearly every course, came from Heller Estate Organic Vineyards in the Carmel Valley.

Chef Matt Millea and Jordan Champagne
Laughter and convivial conversation paired wonderfully with the organic, vegetarian cuisine served.

The great news: more pop-up dinners at Happy Girl Cafe are in the works. Reserve early; savor slowly; stay late.

Savoring the good life,

John and Lisa's Signatures

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 Give us your opinion on
Pop-up Dinners: Meet Your Meal Makers

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Reader Comments
Cool
Kendra, Harrisburg, IL
Posted: 3/29/2012 4:41:09 PM
What a great idea!
carl, Livermore, CA
Posted: 3/23/2012 10:13:10 AM
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