Pop! Goes The Gourmand

By Toni Waterman

May 26, 2011

SOMERVILLE, Mass. — Six chefs work in a kitchen, their chopping knives whirling. But it’s not the bustling kitchen of a swanky celebrity chef. It’s the kitchen of 24 Webster Ave in Somerville.
By day, this is woodworking shop. But for one night only, it’s a gourmand’s delight. 
“We have spring-dug parsnip and we’re doing it as a soup. We’ve got tangier aged gouda, we have a spring rack of lamb that I marinated in some fresh local rosemary, there’s brisket,” says JJ Gonson.
Gonson is the culinary mastermind behind ONCE — an-invitation only restaurant that pops up for just one night in secret locations around Boston, like the Somerville armory and a Cambridge theater.

JJ Gonson serves guests at a ONCE dining event in 2009. (via Flickr)

“I send an email the night before telling people where it is, what time it is and what they should expect – a little bit,” Gonson said.
Get on the list, as only those in the know can do, and your taste buds will tingle. On this night, it’s a ten-course feast on a small budget: seventy-five dollars for everything from oysters to scallops to a strawberry-puff dessert. 
But it’s not allabout unabashed dining delirium. Gonson pairs each course with a lessonon buying local.
“Finger-lings from Maine, Kale flowers from 20-ft tall greenhouses in Westport, Mass. Eggs from Stillman Farm in Hardwick,” Gonson explained
Everything down to the salt and pepper are from local farms. And for some diners, the lessons are working.
“I think coming to this and hearing about it and getting more information has made it important and in my garden I’m growing more native plants instead of aliens,” Alice Johnson said.
Robert Isaacson said knowing its local makes him feel more connected to his food.
“When it’s something that was pulled out of the ground a few miles away or was raised just over the hill, it’s almost as if it’s more real in a way, like, this came out of the part of the world I live in,” Isaacson said.
The pop-up dining experience gives guests no choice but to connect to each other. They sit elbow to elbow with strangers, passing plates family-style.
“I’ve never had an experience quite like this before. But it has a very homey feel to it,” Isaacson said.
Gonson says pop up dining is nothing less than food as art — and she’s going to fuel this foodie frenzy as long as she can.
“This particular movement is something to be cherished because something will replace it very soon,” Gonson said. “So it’s important to me that it is this spontaneous kind of creative process where we all work together and whatever happens is exciting because you’re part of it.”
Until, of course, it all disappears back into the woodwork.


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