As many of you might know, Christine is preparing to become a restauranteur. In doing so, she recently accomplished her first pop up to give her MasterChef (and NMO) fans a sneak peak of what they might expect. We asked her a few questions about this milestone event.
What’s a pop up?
**A pop-up is when you take over an existing space and run it as your own place for a limited amount of time. It could be an art exhibit or a restaurant service (as what I did). It could be for a number of weeks; days; or, in my case, hours.
Who helped you with the planning, prep and the actual event?
**I planned the menu, schedule, and whole ambience of the pop-up. This is the role of an executive chef or chef d’cuisine. My husband, John, is my sous (Suh? har har) chef—he helps fine-tune recipes. He also helped me purchase inventory and ran the show the day of the pop-up. I had a total of 9 additional friends, family, and neighbors who were my prep and line cooks. Last, but not least, my dear friend whom I’ve known since middle school and who also co-owns the establishment, MKT BAR/Phoenicia, provided the space, serving staff, and skeletal kitchen staff for my pop-up.
What did you serve on your menu?
**It was a tribute and a farewell to summer since it was happening the week before summer officially ends, so I wanted a seasonal menu served street food style. I also wanted to showcase a winning recipe from the show and a recipe from my NYT best-selling cookbook. All these factored into my coming up with the menu: green papaya salad, fried chicken wings, and a cooling tropical dessert—all things you’d find from street vendors in southeast Asia, the kind of food I love to eat when traveling. (See attached menu for details.)
What were you hoping to accomplish with your first pop up?
**I wanted to answer to all the fans who have been asking me for a year now how they can taste my food. It was all for the fans.
What was the turn out like?
**The house was packed 30 minutes before the service began. We sold out of 250 covers in less than 60 minutes. There was a line of people waiting who had to be turned away at 4 o’clock when the food officially ran out, but we comped them free dessert. I could not have asked for a better event turnout.
When will the next pop up be?
**I am barely recovering from this one! The reason it took me over a year to do my first pop-up was because I’ve been traveling so much and busy with other things like writing the cookbook, writing the thesis and graduating, and other TV and PR appearances. I finally had roughly a month in my hometown of Houston to plan and pull off this pop-up. I will be traveling extensively until December, so I imagine Episode 2 will happen in early 2014.
How were your NMO symptoms? What NMO challenges did you overcome?
**The week of the pop-up, I had very little sleep. I was under a lot of stress, and I was exhausted from not only the regular NMO symptoms but obviously also because I was constantly thinking about the pop-up, running around to get stuff for the pop-up, and on my feet prepping for the pop-up. I made sure never to pull all-nighters and at least get in a little sleep each night. My biggest obvious NMO challenge to overcome was my vision impairment. It is often twice as hard to do anything and everything as a VI person than a sighted person. It’s hard to step into a foreign kitchen space and navigate it while there are so many other moving parts around me. It is safest to learn a small area and be tucked out of the way and do the cold prep during service.
People are always taking photos of you and you’ve become a spokesperson for neuromyelitis optica (NMO) and the visually impaired. Tell us what that’s like.
**It took a while, but I’ve finally gotten used to being in the spotlight. I am happy to be an advocate for so many—the blind, those with NMO, women, the disabled, people of color. When I think about the bigger picture and how being in my position helps me help others, I am blessed.