If you haven’t heard of CharPOP yet, I’m going to assume you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple months.
Here are the Coles notes: John Jackson and Connie Desousa, household names in Calgary’s food community, decided to partner up with Toronto-based chef Grant van Gameren and baker extraordinaire Aviv Fried to create a three day opportunity that would make anyone fight for a bite over. Creating a temporary world where culinary ideas collide and create a one-of-a-kind dining experience is something that foodies would fight tooth and nail over, Street Fighter-style if you will, for the chance to be a part of. Last week, I spent some time lending a hand with CharPOP, what would be Calgary’s first pop-up restaurant experience.
The idea behind a ‘pop-up’ is quite simple; different chefs from different culinary backgrounds opening up a temporary dining experience in an unusual location. The chance to let creativity flow outside the typicality of their home restaurants’ menus. The life of a pop-up is up for debate; some last a week, others a few days and sometimes ones only last for a few hours. I like the sound of this. Well, not only do I like the sound of this, but it also makes me hungry.
The days leading up to the premiere evening of CharPOP were very secretive, even well I was helping prepare components of various dishes the day before their first service, the entire menu was kept ‘hush, hush’. We had to take a vow of silence. Like monks, but ones that could still talk about anything besides the menu. Arriving at CharPOP’s top-secret dining location (now, obviously, outed as Aviv’s bakery in south east Calgary), it was hard to imagine how the space would transform into a fully functional dining room. Fast forward to five hours later, magically, tables were set, candles were lit, and Charpop was ready for its first seating of the evening. I (loosely) lent a hand expediting with John while Connie and Grant worked on the line. I liked the fact that the pop-up didn’t have any P.O.S. server systems or computers, just pen-to-paper orders. Handwritten. Just like the olden days, right? As the orders came rushing in, I was surprised how smoothly the flow of the kitchen was. In such a small space, Connie and Grant, along with a kitchen team of three popped out dishes ike this ‘restaurant’ had been open for months.
John let me put some finishing touches on a few of the plates, like skewering pickles for the ‘The Original Tongue’, which, visually, mimicked a Reuben sandwich stuck between two thick slices of brioche. Naturally, I may of ate a pickle or two. Quality control.
I was also in charge of grating fresh nutmeg on top of Grant’s ‘Cabbage and Bone Marrow Soup’, which may of resulted in me dropping an entire piece of nutmeg into a bowl of soup. Hence, reminding me that I am not a chef. And…yes, for the record, I did spoon the chunk of nutmeg out of the soup. While watching dishes flow out of the small cooking space with ease, I had my eye on one in particular…John and Connie’s beef cheek dish. A very home-y dish comprised of slowly braised beef cheek, root vegetables and accompanied by one of Aviv’s never-fail savoury biscuits.
The only way to describe it, really, would to be as a ‘home cooked meal that your mother could never make’. Sorry mom. (On a side note, the picture absolutely does not do the dish justice. Not in the least.)
Aside from one starter dish, a beautiful croissant with lamb and mint (pictured left, it was so god damn delicious), Aviv’s major contributions came in the form of dessert. In particular, one of CharPOP‘s two sweet dishes, his ‘Cinnamon Bun’, served in hot cast
iron pans, were the perfect finish to this unique dining experience. This is not the last you’ve seen of CharPOP. In the coming months, you may find it, well, ‘popping’ up in some new locations, with new exciting partnerships…and I’m not just talking about Calgary. They may, just may, be taking this venture on the road. Just saying…but, I digress…
Are you hungry yet? I am.
To stay up-to-date with CharPOP and their future events, head to their website, www.charpop.com, or follow them on twitter, @YYC_CHARPOP. Ok, fine. Here’s a few more photos from the CharPOP experience…
Chef van Gameren’s sweetbreads dish
Crispy Pig Ear Salad by Connie and John, topped with a sous vide egg.
Everyone’s favourite baker, Aviv Fried, serious and at work!
Grant’s blood sausage and foie gras dish, drizzled with bourbon gastrique.
Local food writer/cookbook author, Pierre Lamielle, being put to work slicing some brioche
in the CharPOP kitchen.
Connie and John’s octopus dish. Easily one of my favourites on the menu. I love octopus!
Pierre and I proudly wearing out CharPOP work shirts, ready for service!
Scalloped potatoes made with pork jowl. Wait, what?
Pre-service meeting with the CharPOP kitchen crew.
Beef heart steak because, well, why not? Surprisingly delicious.
Aviv Fried’s cinnamon buns. Should this photo set end any other way? I think not!
Dan Clapson is a food writer and culinary instructor based out of Calgary. He is constantly creating new recipes and striving to expand his culinary horizons. He thinks yam fries are overrated.