If ever there was a pop up dinner that would be in my wheel house, The Future of Junk Food, a six-part pop-up put together by Chefs Samuel Monsour and Mark O’Leary, would be it. As a child and teen growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I was a part of the junk food generation. We’d gladly stuff our faces with cheeseburgers made with meat of highly questionable, and sometimes unidentifiable, origins. Carcinogenic coloring to make those reds über red? Hell yes! So what if one of the ingredients has 18 syllables? I just bought 5 tacos for a nickle!
Looking back it is almost mind-boggling to see just how much junk really existed (and unfortunately still exists) in junk food. But, when thinking about my eating habits as a kid, it brings to mind an intriguing question: What if junk food wasn’t junk? It’s the question that Monsour and O’Leary are aiming to answer. Taking inspiration from the junk food of our youth, they look to recreate many of those items using local, fresh ingredients.
I had the chance to attend part two of this series on Monday, May 12th, at East by Northeast in Cambridge. The first dish alone brought back a multitude of memories for me. I could easily polish off a bag of Cheetos while watching a movie when I was a teen. Make them from fried pig ears? The Portuguese kid in me was smelling the frying pig fat just reading the menu. The entire meal was, in a word, epic. While a shift in philosophy for the corporations that propagate junk food across the United States isn’t likely to change any time soon, its inspiring to see what our local chefs can do. With people like Sam and Mark at the forefront, even junk food has a potentially bright future.
Flamin’ Hot Cheetos
Pig ears, uni, lardo
Robiola, english peas, morels
Pancetta, sicilian pistachio, rhubarb
Soft shell crab, apricot, mascarpone
Beef cheeks, radish, ramps
Fried Chicken TV Dinner
Favas, black truffle, marjoram
Foie gras, black garlic, cocoa nib
The menu featured foods from Siena Farms, Four Star Farms, Pineland Farms, Maine Family Farms and La Belle Farm.
Be sure to follow both Sammy (@samuelmonsour) and Mark (@markmoleary), as well as The Future of Junk Food (@tfojf) and Kitchen Surfing (@kitchensurfing) to find out when the remainder of the pop-ups will be. Part three should happen some time in June.
A special shout out to my table mates for making the evening even more fun: Travis Lowry from Soon Spoon, Alessandra Pollina from pollinaPR, Mara Littman from Boston Date Night, and Natasha Kirker from Breathing & Butter.
These photos, including the one at the top of this article, were provided by a fantastic photographer, Tara Morris. Learn more about Tara over on her website: taramorrisimages.com.