The hottest thing right now in trendy cuisine seems to be pop-up chefs, and this summer, Atlanta’s Westside Provisions District is certainly the spot to be. Beginning in April, marquee chefs have been invited to bring out their wares every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and share a little something more than a run-of-the-mill lunch (running until October 31). Chef Ben Barth, 29, of Local Three Kitchen & Bar — the Earth-toney West Paces area hotspot serving locally sourced and seasonal fare — saw great success dishing up his Berkshire pork tacos when he was featured on July 17. We chatted with the local cuisinier about the Atlanta culinary scene and his take on the benefits of the pop-up trend.
Pop-up concepts in Atlanta seem to be the new food truck. Why are they so popular now?
I think we’re just catching up to everybody else. It’s been hot in San Francisco and New York, and now we’re just starting to follow suit. As far as a culinary scene, Atlanta is really budding right now. Lots of chefs are getting out on their own, getting away from more of the restaurant group kind of concepts. We’re finally becoming a mecca as far as the south is concerned. There are a lot of very talented chefs around Atlanta that are doing some really cool stuff. This is a move in the right direction.
What’s the philosophy behind the pop-up concept?
In the beginning, pop-up was basically about getting your name out there; you’re an upstart chef trying to move in the direction of getting into a solid space eventually. The name of the game is building your brand, and pop-ups are a perfect way. As big of a culinary scene as Atlanta may seem to have, it’s actually a pretty tight-knit group; everybody knows everybody, and everybody is pretty willing to help each other out in any way they can.
For an established chef like yourself, what do you get out of it?
To be honest with you, I did the pop-up chef series just because it’s a cool idea. I love Westside Provisions; there’s a lot of great restaurants and shops over there. It’s a fun thing to do that kind of gets you out of the normal grind of restaurant life. It’s a chance to get out there and hang out and talk to people and serve them some good food.
It sounds like you get to really flex your muscles as a chef by participating in a concept like this.
It’s completely free reign! You’re not limited in any way, shape or form other than what you’re physically able to execute out of a hot dog cart. Your brain is the limit.
When did you know the pop-up was a hit?
We learned two days prior that Pop Up Chef was offering a Scoutmob for the deal — two tacos, a side of slaw and a little bit of the lemonade for $8 or $10. And they let us know that this was the most Scoutmobs that they ever sold! We had 80 going into it and we ended up serving right over 100 people in three hours.
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Photo Courtesy of Gregory Miller