Elijah Ferrian experiences a fantastic meal for charity that will continue to evolve over time in the Aperitivo space in Thao Dien. Photo by Vinh Dao.

Having worked in the service industry in the States for many years, getting the opportunity to visit a “pop up” concept here in Ho Chi Minh City was a real treat. I miss the hustle of working in the restaurant game. There’s a specific breed that finds toiling away in a kitchen, or being manhandled by endless waves of patrons yelling for cocktails at the bar, enjoyable.

Jamie Morton is no rookie when it comes to the former. He worked as a chef in Glasgow for five years, but eventually just kind of got burnt out on the whole industry. He got the opportunity to come out to Saigon five years ago, working in a different profession, and he ran with it.

He found that he was still cooking here all of the time. Throwing dinner parties, still learning technique, still nerding out on equipment and new dishes he was unfamiliar with, or had never cooked before. Morton began throwing dinner parties as a way to channel this creative energy.

He and his wife, Claudia Davaar, found that after awhile of establishing themselves in Vietnam, that they would like to do something beyond just their jobs.

Something that could help people, and allow them to pool their talents and passion together.

That’s when the idea for “The Pop Up” came home to roost.

It began as dinner parties, evolved into a pop up concept that they operated out of their apartment, and quickly blossomed into its current form.

“[We] did pop-ups in our and friend’s apartments,” Morton said. “After one night, I went out for a cigarette, and I had an epiphany. I was like: ‘Hey, we can do this at Aperitivo.’ We started getting it squared away, contacting all the suppliers and stuff. We drink there all the time, we love the place, but I had never even thought about it. We were thinking of doing it on the roof of our apartment, and then we spoke to Attilio Battero, the owner of Aperitivo, and he was really for it after their redesign.”

What is a “Pop-Up” Restaurant?

In my personal experience, a lot of pop-up concepts are conceived by chefs that are in-between jobs. Whether they are waiting to land at a new kitchen, or a new restaurant they are opening is slowly rolling along, they have to be able to keep consumers engaged with their product. Pop-ups afford this with little overhead cost, and oftentimes a healthy, symbiotic cross-pollination between different restaurants and the talented people behind them.

Pop-up restaurants have steadily gained in popularity since the 2000s in Britain, Australia and the United States, but they are anything but a new concept. Patrons typically make use of social media to follow the movement of these restaurants and make online reservations. The online marketplace has been an absolute boon, if not the sole reason why this phenomenon has grown exponentially over time.

The concept draws many parallels to things like food trucks, and one of the most tried-and-true avenues for young chefs and bartenders to gain exposure for their specialised sets of skills and originality in the field of food and beverage. In an industry where the most enterprising must always be on the lookout for investors and attention for marketing purposes, pop-ups provide the framework to get their ideas from their imagination, into a bricks-and-mortar reality.

Pop-up restaurants are generally hailed as useful for younger chefs, allowing them access to underused kitchen facilities and to “experiment without the risk of bankruptcy”. By 2013, this restaurant style had gained steam and prevalence in larger cities thanks in part to crowd-funding efforts that offered the short-term capital needed to fund start-up costs.

Fine Foods for Charity

“I just wanted to satisfy my desire for rich food, but I don’t want to eat it all the time,” Morton explains. “So hey, maybe cook it for other people? I was originally going to be doing an excursion, after my wife and I got married recently. I wanted to use some skills I have to give a little bit back. We’re still trying to develop what we’re trying to do.”

The evening I showed up to experience Morton’s food, they were donating all the proceeds to Little Rose Shelter. a girls home that provides services for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

“We spoke to the charity, and they need a new roof for their kitchen and the whole cost will be VND60,000,000,” Morton tells me. “So, we’re trying to pitch in and help make that a reality for them. In the future, we plan to target grassroots charities. Places that truly haven’t gotten any help from anyone.”

Sorry to keep you all waiting regarding the food. The evening this interview was conducted Morton served a pork knuckle terrine, homemade poppy seed crackers, with UK-style piccalilli, and chopped shallot.

A palate cleanser for in between courses consisted of a gorgeous watermelon granita with basil oil. A delicate, vegetal-flavoured segue between bites.

Beef brisket ravioli, sage beurre noisette, carrot crisp.

Ricotta and parmesan stuffed courgette flower, with saffron aioli.

Herb-crusted emperor fish, shrimp emulsion, and smoked pomme puree.

Dessert came as a well balanced rosewater panna cotta, flanked by crisp honeycomb, strawberries, and mint.

The price for this meal was VND950,000 per head, all proceeds headed to charity.

This man can cook, and it’s for a damned good cause. Him and his wife are doing something very exciting, and for those foodies that are looking for a little something more from a culinary experience in Ho Chi Minh City, look no further than The Pop Up. Food you can feel good about eating.

Be on the lookout for The Pop Up’s next dinner, coming sometime after Tet Holiday. Check out their facebook page at: facebook.com/thepopupsaigon.