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Pop-up perfect

Knaves Kitchen

Marcin Wisniewski and Julian Calleros of Knaves Kitchen. Credit: -

It happens when you least expect it. After you’ve relaxed into your safe routine, completely oblivious to the impending mobilization. That’s when these wily guerrillas creep in stealthily, steel in their hands, joined by a singular purpose: to conquer your eyes, your mind . . . and your stomach.

Knaves Kitchen is one of the latest sensations of pop-up events here in Toronto, with monthly dinners that combine the best elements of art, cultural exploration and food. It’s the brainchild of Marcin Wisniewski, Julian Calleros and Greg Goddard, a trio of Toronto artists with a unique vision of unified entertainment.

“It really is guerrilla cooking,” Wisniewski says. “We just kind of appear in spaces throughout the city, create something that is very of-the-moment, and then it’s gone.”

Former restaurant owner Calleros had tried the combination of art gallery and cafĂ© before and was keen to revisit the concept in a less structured — and more economical — manner.

“One of the things that really defined Julian’s work was this convergence of art, food and drink all coming together,” Wisniewski says. “After [his restaurant] closed, he went through discussions and came up with something that was maybe more temporary but also very current.”

Pop-up events are becoming more visible in major cities, where rents are high and clientele notoriously fickle. The brilliance of the Knaves is their branding as a cultural event with a fabulous menu that keeps changing to reflect the evening’s artistic flavour.

Their January event, entitled The Origins, was held at local Mexican restaurant Maizal and featured a talk on the pre-Hispanic cultural relationship to corn. This was followed by an authentic menu inspired by the presentation. Guests were able to continue the discussion, sharing their own thoughts while enjoying the fabulous food.

February’s installation, Amulets, took a completely different tack, with a screening of Guillermo del Toro’s film Cronus at the Videofag gallery in Kensington Market. The menu was designed to complement del Toro’s film, as well as an animated short screened by Toronto visual artist Sarah d’Angelo.

March promises to be equally engaging and eclectic as the group presents Saudade: An Evening of Fado, sung by Jess Salgueiro. Fado (“fate”) is a unique form of Portuguese folk music filled with images of the sea and of loss and resignation. Creating a menu for such a program presented a unique challenge to the Knaves.

“Fado is very nostalgic, so we’d like to make the food a little more hearty,” Wisniewski says. “The menu will be very much inspired by Portuguese cuisine, with sardines and tapas dishes.”

The group relishes their freedom in choosing themes for their monthly outing, with each contributing ideas from their own history and community. For Wisniewski, April takes on a particularly personal note.

“I’m Polish, and my mom is going to help teach how to make Polish food,” he says. “Maybe a Mexican take on the perogie or the cabbage roll. We’re going to show a Polish sci-fi movie, which is fun for me, as I have a degree in film theory and history.

“It’s very exciting to combine that cultural aspect, to curate people’s evenings for them. We often go out to movies and then to dinner, but they don’t have to be isolated events.”