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How a product designer creates innovative food pop-ups

Anurag Arora is a product designer on weekdays, and hosts food pop-ups on weekends in Bengaluru. In an interview, he talks about approaching food as a designer.

Chef Anurag Arora creates innovative food pop-ups in Bengaluru.
Chef Anurag Arora creates innovative food pop-ups in Bengaluru.

Bengaluru-based Anurag Arora is a product designer on weekdays and a creative pop-up chef on the weekends. His approach to brunch is a breath of fresh air, breaking free from the confines of tradition to offer a borderless perspective on culinary artistry. Traditionally, this meal includes a lot of egg preparations, baked beans and sausages, but Arora’s menu features curry-based dishes and snacks which is very unconventional for a brunch scene.

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The self-taught chef has gained a dedicated following with his Sunday Brunch Club in Bengaluru, selling out in mere minutes. The innovative approach promises not just great food, but an atmosphere filled with curiosity and excitement.

This weekend, Arora is all set to put together an interesting culinary experience for Mumbaikars as part of the pop-up Chef Series by the hospitality group Food Matters. They run the fine dining restaurant The Table, Magazine St. Cafe and the events space Magazine St. Kitchen for unique dining and interactive experiences. Arora's event is already sold out. Needless to say, there is immense curiosity about his food. In an interview, the chef talks about his approach to cooking and how he cracks new recipes.

Edited excerpts:

1. How did your interest in food begin?

My culinary journey began with childhood cooking experiments under my mother’s supervision. It wasn’t long after that when my mother started inviting guests to try my menus which included a lot of my own takes on magazine recipes with the likes of quesadilla, pizza and fusion recipes with whatever was available in the kitchen. Their encouraging feedback motivated me to experiment more by blending in an ingredient or two. In 2014, I gained recognition when Hindustan Times featured my cooking and design pursuits as a kid. So when I moved to Bengaluru from Punjab, I started hosting pop-ups at my home in Indiranagar by introducing tropical flavors with dishes like mushroom cake in a coconut and parmesan sauce, coupled with a creative apprach, such as presenting potato latke like a hash brown with sour cream. These events were similar to restaurant setups, and I handled most preparations with the help of a friend. They taught me valuable lessons in creating memorable culinary experiences.

We often host a standout pop-up event, titled Fried Chicken & Flowers, where we feature a tantalizing Chinese-inspired fried chicken sandwich alongside a stall of flowers. With seating for 20-30 guests, the concept turned out to be a sensorial adventure where diners could not only savor delicious food, but also purchase vibrant flowers. It was a crowd-puller, and people flew in from Chennai.

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2. How do you decide which dishes will feature in the pop-ups?

As a product designer, I approach the art of crafting dining experiences intuitively. Each new city I venture into unveils a world of culinary possibilities as I acquaint myself with unique ingredients and regional cuisines. My process involves delving into the local dining customs, understanding the palate preferences, and translating those insights into my menu creations. Exploring a new city is like unlocking a treasure trove of culinary inspiration. During my recent stay in Mexico, for instance, I was enthralled by the abundance of exotic fruits and ingredients. It's imperative to grasp the essence of how the locals dine and infuse that essence into my recipes with their ingredients and textures.

In today's culinary landscape, there's a remarkable openness among the new generation of chefs. Authenticity is vital, but the beauty of modern gastronomy lies in its fluidity. Creating innovative dishes often involves blending influences from various culinary traditions. That's the magic of food, a constant evolution driven by a fusion of ideas and flavors.

Sri Lankan Seeni Sambol with Curry Sauce.
Sri Lankan Seeni Sambol with Curry Sauce.

3. What is The Brunch Club and what dishes do you serve?

The concept of The Brunch Club emerged from a desire to break away from the conventional and often mundane brunch offerings that typically feature classics like Benedicts and sausages. Somewhere around 2020, it was born out of the idea that brunch should be an exciting and engaging meal experience, a delightful fusion of breakfast and lunch that brings a fresh perspective to the table.

To achieve this, the menu at The Brunch Club combines diverse influences from Taiwan, Korea, and Thailand, resulting in an array of captivating dishes that promise to be real showstoppers. One such dish is the bone marrow, meticulously smoked to perfection with a delightful lemongrass infusion. It's served alongside perilla seeds from regions like Thailand, Nepal, and the North East. It is served with freshly baked Goan poee.

For those seeking a vegetarian option, there's a standout dish featuring fermented soybean named doenjang, and frozen mulberries. And when it comes to dessert, there's the delectable banana French toast. It has banana bread soaked overnight in a luscious English cream bath, resulting in a delightful interplay of sweet and salty flavors. The addition of malt and miso caramel adds a unique twist.

Bone Marrow with lemongrass infusion spiced with perilla seeds.
Bone Marrow with lemongrass infusion spiced with perilla seeds.

4. What sparks ideas for the pop-ups?

I don’t approach the art of cooking as a chef, but as a designer instead. It all starts with an idea that can be imperfect when conceptualized but I nurture it, and play with it till I am sure it can be taken to the table as a culinary experience. My pop-ups aren’t just about the food or creative recipes, but the whole experience. As a designer at heart, a lot of thought goes into the invitation, the way the menu is presented, the plating experience and the ambiance. I play a lot with the overall visual experience by adding artistic elements into the whole presentation, for instance, including flowers in the popular Fried Chicken & Flowers Pop-Up. This goes hand in hand with the fusion flavors I introduce people to. It’s not always traditional but worth the time. It’s always a pleasure to see happy faces going through the door.

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