Behind the scenes of my pop-up events, there is lots that happens, and a lot of preparation is needed for a big event like this. As chef and host isn’t my trained profession it’s all still very new to me, and while I still have so much to learn, I feel that it’s going in the right direction of the dream I had in mind.
It all starts with a date in the diary and then a well thought-out menu. I spend lots of time researching how to present and plate the food, I dig deep in to my life drawing from recipes that I have been brought up on. They are not dishes like rogan josh, baltis or jalfrezi. Those dishes have been developed to adapt for the western palate and vernacular. The recipes I do select, I am often hesitant about, as I don’t want to scare my guests by giving them something too unfamiliar. So to help my guests and patrons get used to these new flavours and textures, I introduce them slowly via the tasting menu which has a variety of eight dishes.
In between setting the date of the event; recipes are tested and presentation ideas are tried. The night only goes to plan if I have prepared and preparation is KEY which means I often start working up to three days in advance. Cooking for 35 people is never easy, so it helps if I cook the sauces and dips ahead of time, I can also cut vegetables and make the starters like samosas that take more than 6 hours to prepare.
My meats are always brought fresh on the day of the pop-up from a local supplier called Gorden stores in Maidenhead. They are an Asian food specialist store that supplies meat and a range of Asian goods to local restaurants. The meat I use is halal, that has been cut and cleaned, removing all the fats and unwanted bits. Once I get in the kitchen of the Pinkneys Arms, I have to settle in by arranging my spices and produce. If they’re not within arm’s reach, it will result in wasted time in the kitchen. I then set my god statue – Lord Ganesh on the side; he is my good fortune ‘The Remover of Obstacles, and The Deity of Good Fortune’. He looks over me and makes my night go well. Don’t get me wrong, as any cook knows – things can go wrong in the kitchen, but having inner faith of god and spirit guides always helps.
It all gets under way from 3.30pm onward for the dishes to be ready on time for 7.30pm service. There’s lots pans on the hob and I’ve learnt over time, that multi-tasking is what a woman knows how to do best and has been ingrained in me since I was a child. The first thing I had to learn when I was a child from the age of 11, was how to make chapattis which may not have been a bad thing because now as an adult, as soon as I’m around food, I know what to do, and I’m in my comfort zone.
I have a chef who helps me in the kitchen; James Smith. He has years of experience in the culinary world and having him there to guide me toward service time, puts my nerves to ease. Serving 35 customers is never easy, one dish after another. This is when my adrenaline kicks in and I forget all the aches and pains in my body, the lack of sleep for the last three days and I get into the zone! Usually with a glass of Malbec in my hand.
From serving up amuse-bouche to desserts – time goes super-fast! Serving eight dishes is madness and every time I ask “why do I do this to myself?” The answer is that I have a love of food and, truth be told, I’m a feeder. I naturally love feeding my friends and family and an absolute love feeding my customers. It gives me a sense of belonging and value, and it showcases my heritage. Doing this opens me as a person. During the night I greet my guests and in between service and I love getting feedback on how I can make things better, but even more, I love hear the customers tell me how much they LOVED THE FOOD. One quote that still resonates with me is “It’s better than Sindu’s” – which is owned by Chef Atul Kochhar. It’s wonderful to receive their appreciation and in the end it proves to be a terrifically satisfying experience every time.
Hearing the voices and laugher from the restaurant warms my heart and unbelievably they are all there to support my business. So here’s to YOU for supporting me in my culinary journey!
But my night doesn’t stop there, clearing up is not my favourite thing in the world. Nor is it for chef James. But we both get on and do it with the help of the pot washers and staff. After the kitchen is spotless, James and I can relax with another glass of Malbec and a beer – a drink well deserved! Thank you James You are my hero!
Thereafter I am a walking zombie until I finally get my energy back! I’m already dreaming about the next pop up – so stay tuned…