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That unless is always looming—an elusive, cryptic balance these pop-up chefs are always weighing in their minds of the trade-offs between free time, financial gain, improvisational liberty, and market demand.
An Intense, Indulgent ExperienceDespite the seasonal fluctuations in the Hudson Valley market, Peraza is toying with opening another brick-and-mortar. In the meantime, since June, he has been focused on a monthly pop-up dining series at venues around the Hudson Valley. Past venues have included his home, The Inn at Ca'Mea in Hudson, and the banquet hall at Farmers & Chefs in Poughkeepsie.
These high-end dinners cost upwards of $200 per person and offer a 10- to 15-course tasting menu with drink pairings. Trained at the Culinary Institute of America, Peraza feels an itch to constantly innovate. The pop-ups provide an opportunity for him to hone his edge and continue exploring while he figures out his next project. "When you own a restaurant, you have a financial responsibility. You have customer base. You have box you are working within," he says. "So the pop-ups are selfish in a way."
Peraza's tasting menus offer a highly seasonal, progressive experience that is complemented by the custom dishware, curated decor, and drink selection. "To prompt an internal evolution, I had to make this about the process, about technique, about self-exploration, and food exploration," Peraza says. Without the overhead of a brick-and-mortar restaurant, the pop-ups allow Peraza to more value for the money. In a given evening, you might taste between eight and 15 wines.
"The point is to have a fun, intense, and indulgent experience. I love the pomp and circumstance of sitting down for a few hours and connecting to food as an experience," Peraza says. "In the end you get sustenance, but dining can bring you so much more pleasure and memories."
Biologist by DayFor Stephen Bewsher of the Hudson Valley Kitchen Club (HVKC), this idea of experience-driven dining gets to the heart of it. "I'm not a huge fan of going out," he says. "It gets old after a while; I would rather cook at home. But if I hear about something different happening, I would be interested."
Though he worked in cooking and catering through high school, college, and the Navy, Bewsher does not consider himself a chef (his day job is in a biology lab.) "I like to cook," he says. "But what I like most is bringing people together." The premise of his nascent business is to pick an organizing concept—whether that be a guest chef, album release party, or game night—choose a venue, and pool local resources to create a meal around it. "The sky's the limit with this sort of thing," he says.
HVKC's inaugural event was a pop-up dinner at Miss Lucy's Kitchen in Saugerties, featuring Bewsher's friend Eoin O'Donoghue of Marea restaurant in New York (and formerly of Morimoto and Daniel). Despite the impressive CV, O'Donoghue is still a relatively junior member in his kitchen, meaning he largely runs a station without many opportunities to design dishes.
"I challenged him by saying, 'I don't want to see anything on menu that you can get at a restaurant across the street. I'm giving you opportunity to be artistic and crazy,'" Bewsher says. "I feel good about it. People had things in front of them that they could only get if they went into Manhattan. And hopefully they left with a few new friends.
The biologist-by-day, event-planner-by-night is using his new platform to as a testing ground for the next phase of his life. "I look at stats and numbers all day long," Bewsher says. "Hopefully, whatever I do in the next chapter will give me the satisfaction I'm looking for."
Despite the widely divergent manifestations that pop-up events take, it's clear that a key function they provide is a safe sandbox for exploratory play. And whether these culinary luminaries move on to new cities or states, pivot careers, or stay in the Hudson Valley and open full-service restaurants, their wayfinding journey is a delicious experience for all of us bystanders, so play on chefs.
Upcoming Pop-Up Dinners
On November 10, Ric Orlando will host a New World feast at 7MilestoKingston featuring a four-course meal of indigenous dishes from the Americas and accompanying cocktails. $145. 7milestokingston.com/events
Also on November 10, the Hudson Valley Kitchen Club will host Asian Night Out at Oriole 9 in Woodstock. This pop-up event will feature Asian bites and cocktails by chef Leon Biscoe and proprietor Jessica Anna, along with a Mahjong game night. Facebook.com/hudsonvalleykitchenclub
On November 17, Rei Peraza will host an Autumn Tasting Menu event at The Inn at Ca'Mea in Hudson. This hyper-seasonal tasting menu is produced in collaboration with local farmers and foragers and includes beverage pairings. Peraza will host a Winter Tasting Menu event on December 15. $250. Exploretock.com/chefreiperaza/