2013: The Year That Popped

Stephanie March isn't talking soda, but about the pop-up phenomenon.

As we bring 2013 to a close, and I begin to reflect on the things I’ve consumed over the year, I rather marvel at the amount of bourbon and cheese in my life. Seriously, though, if there is something significant about the food scene this year, I think it’s not so much about kale or gluten or razor clams, it’s about the pop.

I’m not talking soda, I’m talking about the phenomenon of the pop-up, where chefs/restaurants show up somewhere and throw a dinner/event for a limited run. It really took hold this year, and the clear catalyst for the movement was the closing of Travail. While building their new restaurant and keeping cooks on a payroll, the Travail guys found themselves in need of cash, so they began doing pop-ups. Restaurants all around town opened up their kitchens, their festivals, their patios to the guys so they could do their thing, make a little cash, and keep rocking on. But they aren’t the only ones. Tobie Nidetz has been popping up to debut his new potential hot dog restaurant, and the Bittercube bartenders popped up at the Haunted Basement this year.

And yes, while it’s exciting and thrilling to experience something you can only have for a short time, it really speaks to a bigger trend: collaboration. These pop-ups couldn’t happen without existing restaurants giving up a slice of their pie. For a long time I’ve said that our huddling together is something that makes the Twin Cities different from other cities. A more supportive food scene takes away the biting and ego-thrashing that creates false growth—rocket upstarts that fall when they prove they have no substance. Collaboration was a trend I called out in the Best Restaurant issue last March, but I never would have expected to see it bloom as it has.

Think about the overwhelming amount of support the eating community gave to Travail in the form of Kickstarter funding. That’s just another form of collaboration. It’s astounding. It’s game-changing. When people say that dining out is entertainment, I don’t disagree. I believe that for many it’s sport and frolic, amen. But I think we’re missing a level when we slap on that label—we miss a connection. Given how restaurants are now built with open kitchens and chef’s tables, allowing the cooks to be a part of the dining room, and the way that some like the Travailians and Erick Harcey at Victory 44 have blurred the lines even further by becoming the dining room leaders themselves, we have created a whole new paradigm for sharing a meal, a collaboration between eaters and cooks.

Gone are the days when the chef was seen as overlord to be worshipped, it seems; now it’s all about the five creatives in the kitchen or behind the bar and the collaboration of ideas allowed to bounce forth. What we can look forward to is something that is less self-centered pomp and circumstance and more a supportive, collective push forward. What a delicious year we have ahead.

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