Some dreams start from table-side conversations. Such is the case for the Paris Pop-Up, an initiative sparked off by London chef Harry Cummins and Montreal-born sommelier Laura Vidal. The pair met at Frenchie restaurant in Paris where Cummins was head chef. Back in 2012, pop-ups had yet to take off in the City of Lights; the couple would use their weekends off to cook in friends' restaurants that were typically closed on Saturdays and Sundays.
In 2014, the duo began hosting longer pop-up stints and takeovers at restaurants. Together and with another partner, Julia Mitton, the trio officially started The Paris Pop-Up. Here’s what you need to know:
When did pop-ups start becoming trendy in France?
Around 2009 when there was an economic crisis—it was a very hard time. So people were more open to eating food that was delicious, but cost less, in a more laid-back setting. It was not the time to open a restaurant in France, but a pop-up.
In some of the big three-Michelin-starred restaurants, chefs were inviting friends into their kitchens to cook. It also marked the start of the bistronomy movement; chefs were being more simple with the decoration of their restaurants, you saw more wooden tables and rustic settings but with really delicious products.
What were some challenges you faced when starting Paris Pop-Up?
A lot of restaurants didn't understand at first why they would want to share their space with someone else. Using empty spaces is our philosophy in general; it ties in with our take on abundance and not going towards rare products from across the world, but giving the same amount of attention to local produce.
Customers also didn't really grasp the pop-up concept at the start. They'll wonder what was going to happen after the pop-up ends, or where the secret locations were going to be. I must say, though, that they responded really well to this idea of creating exciting moments. It's human nature to give value to something fleeting.
How does the pop-up menu change with each new location you appear in?
Our menus are always product-driven. Not one menu we have created is ever the same, and we take inspiration from our travels. We do research on the country we’re going to. In Singapore, for instance, we went to all the wet markets, tried samples of local farms’ products and went to Edible Garden City. So we use a local ingredient and cook it in a different way—like the local chye poh flatbread. The entrance to the door of any culture is through food and language.
What are some interesting experiences you’ve had traveling around the world?
There was this hilarious moment when we were in Fes, Morocco. We had to go on this crazy quest for turkey for a Christmas dinner we were hosting. I had no idea where to find a turkey and ended up talking to the laundry guy who told me he knew where to find these birds.
I had to walk through an open market, under poles draped with undergarments, and shove through crowds before I finally turned a corner and saw 10 old men surrounded by 25 live turkeys. I chose the most plump bird I could find and carried it in my arms to the butcher before taking it back to the restaurant.
We ended up serving that turkey traditional-style, just simply roasted in the oven and stuffed. The diners said it was the best turkey they ever had.