Underground Food Project: Serious Food Without Being Too Serious

Pop up supper clubs have been on trend since the turn of the century, allowing chefs to take over a space for the night and play restaurant. A host of esteemed chefs across the years from Jason Atherton to Ludo Lefebvre have opened pop-up restaurants, and always with great results and attention. No doubt, the fascination with pop up restaurants is that allowance for a special one-time-only rarely-to-be-repeated experience. We live in the new times of urban guerrillas and grassroots, where getting people’s attention comes through a great deal of consideration while working to the audience’s impulses yet keeping to the simplicity of meat and potatoes – so to speak.

English expats chefs Josh Raine and Phil Marchant have embraced the unconventional to take the pop up restaurant that extra step further with Underground Food Project – a themed pop up kitchen coming near you. Based upon the idea of popping up in venues or businesses that aren’t necessarily centred about food, Underground Food Project especially curates their menu to suit the location, atmosphere and environment, be they gin or whisky bars, food markets or special events. As Underground Food Project prepares for their first event with Small Batch Autumn at Wandering Cooks this Sunday, MyCityLife sits down with Phil to chat how The Tube and two British chefs with a background in fine dining birthed a themed pop up kitchen.

Underground Food Project is a bit of a game changer in Brisbane’s foodie scene. What inspired the idea?
We both worked together in a fine dining environment in London and had always talked about how we would do things differently and more stripped back, focussing more on the food and less on the formality that comes with the fine dining type of scene. In places we worked, the food was always progressing but the environment stayed the same. We wanted to come up with something new, something different. A pop up with themed events at different locations was the concept. Both the food and environment will be a constant change – a stark contrast to what we were both used to in London.

Where does the name come from?
It came about as a bit of a joke really: working crazy long hours at Pied a Terre and trying to catch the last Underground home. Whilst making the commutes on the tube, we used to bounce around ideas about what we would want to do if we had our own restaurant or concept. We both realised back then that we were looking in the same direction. With so much going on individually at work and with little spare time, we forgot about it and moved on in our careers. Randomly last year, we met back up in Brisbane again – and that’s when Underground Food Project was born.

MyCityLife Instagram from Underground Food Project media launch: Chicken, tarragon and fennel hot dog
Clearly you’ve both been thinking about this and it requires a great deal of energy from you both. What does the Underground Food Project mean to you?
Underground Food Project is the culinary collaboration between us both. We recognise that growing and developing your own style is so important as a chef especially as you break away from your mentors and go out on your own. Because we don’t know yet what our own style of food is, Underground Food Project is the platform that gives us the maximum amount of freedom and confidence to do anything whilst we develop that style.  In essence it’s our combined creativity and drive. The project aims to host a series of pop up events matching the style and characteristics of particular businesses and locations around Brisbane. Some events may be secret with the details being revealed a few days before the event happens. Some events may be ticketed and others simply with a door charge – think a vegan dinner at a Garden Centre for example. The whole idea behind the concept is to offer something different, new and exciting and to give people the opportunity to experience a wide variety of different cuisines and food. We are just two lads having a go at what we know we do best. We aren’t thinking way ahead in terms of our careers with any set goals; we just have the drive to do something, to do it now and to do it together.

There are so many possibilities with this. What would you like to achieve?
We want to bring our fine dining background to a more stripped back environment, making it more about the food and less about the formality. We want to create a sociable, relaxed atmosphere, which is slightly outside the ‘normal’ dining scene model. We just want to share our passion for food with everyone. It’s serious food – without being too serious.

There would have to be all sorts of challenges associated with this – what will they be?
Loading and unloading all the equipment in and out of the jeep every time we pop up at a new location! But Jokes aside, the logistics of Underground Food Project is something that is new to us, and something we will have to get used to. As chefs working in kitchens where we have access to all the equipment and tools needed, moving around to different locations may pose a challenge we have to tackle. Take our creative streak with our hand-made smoker as an example. Thanks to John Marchant – Phil’s dad – for the handy tips on helping to get the thing up and running with the use of a good old fashioned pipe! Another challenge for us will be adapting the food to the different themes and environment of the particular business. While this is challenging, this is exactly what we find exciting about the project. It will force us to think outside the box and constantly thinking creatively to come up with new ideas that will work and fit.

Photographer: Carole Margand.


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