Another example of our work

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Wallpaper* Magazine January 2012

[one_half]When Antonio Medina opened The Gastrobus with just $5,000 in 2009, he found a way to launch an independent cooking career without the costs of opening his own restaurant. Part of the first generation of food truck chefs in Los Angeles, Medina, along with his wife Lana, has harnessed the power of social media to alert customers to their location and devised an attention-grabbing menu, including pulled pork sandwich served with aioli, and homey sweet potato hash.

Medina’s cooking is Ecuadorian-
based, with Caribbean influences and the
sunny Californian style he picked up as
executive chef at Wolfgang Puck. ‘We just
wanted our own business and I thought
that a truck with a kitchen would be a
cheap and unstoppable way for us to
go out and show what we could offer.’
Once upon a time, apprentice chefs
spent their shifts sweating over a roux
and dreaming of opening their own
restaurant. These days, that dream is
becoming increasingly difficult to realise.
In London, a restaurant space with high
footfall could easily fetch £200 per sq ft
per annum, and in New York, $200.
As Puck puts it, ‘it’s always difficult for
a young chef to start a restaurant unless
one of his parents is a hedge fund manager.
Talent is one thing, but where do you get
the money to actually build a restaurant
these days?’ No wonder then that so many
young chefs are recasting their ambitions

in surprisingly inventive ways. Trucks are
just one route to financial and creative
freedom; street markets and out-of-hours
restaurant takeovers have also become
the strategies of the entrepreneurial chef
In the US, many budding young chefs
are literally taking their ideas to market
using food stalls as both culinary and
commercial test sites, often while working
in top kitchens. First came the Pop-Up
General Store market in Berkeley,
California, founded by two former Chez
Panisse kitchen alumni, Samin Nosrat

and Christopher Lee. Now, food markets
such as Brooklyn’s Dekalb Market- a
lively mix of shops, cafes and restaurants
housed in salvaged shipping containers
– have become a new platform for
aspiring chefs hoping to make a name
for themselves, but without the usual
daunting financial outlay. At Dekalb, the
weekend rate for a zoft x 6ft space is just
$75. The resulting collection of food on
offer spans Robicelli’s decadent cupcakes,
Mazie’s Bites’ soul food (see overleaf) and
Maharlika’s modern Filipino.
Elsewhere in Brooklyn, Eric Demby
and Jonathan Butler set up Smorgasburg
in Williamsburg, a Saturday food spin-off
of their very popular Sunday Brooklyn
Flea market, last May. ‘Food had been
an increasingly popular part of the Flea,’
Butler explains, ‘but we had reached a
capacity point. The artisanal food scene
was boiling over with talented cooks
wanting to try their own thing. Opening
Smorgasburg was a no-brainer.’ For
Smorgasburg’s roo-odd farmers, cookware
sellers and chefs, it’s a low-cost way of
testing out their concepts on the 3,000
to 5,000 gourmands who show up each
week. Given the amount of attention the
vendors tend to get from the press and
bloggers, it’s also been an effective way
to build buzz for their name and work.
Supper clubs, now an established
buzz-generating device, are still being
opened by young chefs in cities across»

[/one_half] [one_half_last]the world. A year ago, London-based
Martin Morales started a Twitter account
to test the interest in his native Peruvian
cuisine. The response was so positive he
began hosting a series of popular supper
clubs. Self-taught Morales is so confident
his cooking can develop a following he
is opening a standalone restaurant in
Soho this year. ‘I am part of a larger trend
of people saying “Let’s just stop talking
about it and start doing it”.’ The events
make a little money, but the bigger
pay-off for Morales is that they are a
low-risk opportunity to test out recipes.
When his Ceviche restaurant opens, it
will boast the UK’s first pisco bar.

Darren Robertson’s TOYS (Taste of
Young Sydney) is an Australian collective
of young chefs and waiters adopting a
similar tack. A trained chef, Robertson
is also the driving force behind The Table
Sessions, a series of guerrilla dining
events set in warehouses, galleries and
parks around Sydney. ‘The Table Sessions
give me creative freedom. I can explore,
and I get to work with interesting,

talented people in unusual environments:
he says. Pop-Up General Store co-founder
Samin Nosrat makes pasta at Pizzaiolo,
an Oakland pizzeria, by day, and by night
burnishes her profile by taking over San
Francisco’s Tartine Bakery for monthly
blow-out gastro-fests. Canadian chef
Matthew Sullivan, formerly of The Fat
Duck, found a temporary home in

a Queen West coffee shop for his Boxed
Toronto pop-up last summer. All are part
of a growing number of toe-dippers
sharing cooking and food retail spaces
(see box, right, for more examples).

Despite the attractions of creative and
fiscal freestyling, though, most young
chefs still dream of opening their own,
permanent space. Several Smorgasburg
alumni have gone on to open eateries,
and this past October, Medina opened
Gastronomico, ‘a small place where

we serve homemade bread and produce
from local farmers and butchers’, he says,
adding that ‘food is not a money-making
business. If that was my goal in life,
I would be making nuts and bolts.’ *

Above. LA-based chef
Antonio Medina started
his own business with
The Gastrobus in 2009
and has now opened
his own restaurant
Below right. Pop-Up
General Store
co-founder Samin
Nosrat takes
over San Francisco’s
Tartine Bakery for
monthly gastro-fests


Dekalb Market in
Brooklyn, offering
affordable space within
shipping containers,

is providing a platform
for young chefs trying
to make their mark


Thomas Brodin
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