Charles Isadore: Boston Pop-Up Chef
- March 31, 2021
Pasta with Friends: The Story Behind the Pop-UpsCharles Isadore sits across from me in an armchair, with a beanie on his head. When he talks about food, his face becomes animated and his hands start moving, like I imagine they might as he sprinkles parsley over nests of pasta in the center of a plate. Charles started with informal, impromptu dinner events in Allston with friends. This eventually shifted into pop-ups. These are reservation-only events with a set menu, in living rooms or dining rooms of people’s homes with limited seating. His focus is pasta, making hit dishes like Seafood Mac and Cheese with a béchamel sauce. For Charles, it’s not just about pasta. When it comes to his brand, Charles wants people to remember the experience. The pasta is just the vehicle for getting people there.
A Pop-Up Experience: Dining in a Mission Hill Apartment
The first time I attended one of Charles’ pop-ups, I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. It was October 2020 and I was waiting with my boyfriend in the lobby of an apartment building in Mission Hill, Massachusetts. I texted the number that I made the reservation with, and received a message “Please wait in the lobby until the previous dining guests leave. We will be with you shortly!” I looked at my boyfriend anxiously, holding my large canon camera bag at my hips. Moments later, we heard footsteps on the stairs and communal laughter. Four twenty-something guests walked down the stairs, masked, still laughing and talking as they exited. “You can come up now!”, we heard at the top of the stairs. We looked at one another, and walked up stairs.Charles greeted us at the door, with an apron and a mask. We washed our hands, and sat down at a wooden candlelight table with our names on little cards. There was a white tablecloth with lace detailing. The lighting was soft, produced only by lamps and there were mismatched chairs, games stacked in the corners, and other such memorabilia that reminded me of my early twenties. There was a pig holding a chalkboard with the menu written on it. We were in Charles’ close friends apartment. That night, we ate Butternut Squash Crostini with ricotta and balsamic vinegar drizzled on top. Next, we had Tricolor Ravioli filled with arugula and shiitake. We finished with a coffee cream puff, served with a hot caramel sauce. In between each course, Charles told us his backstory and about his passion for food. We drank wine with the hosts after the meal and took selfies at the end of the night, exchanging Instagram handles in the doorway.
The Man Behind the Pasta: About Charles IsadoreCharles is a musician-turned chef, 25 years old, and aspires to own his own restaurant with a “culture of excellence”. But for him, there’s something special about pop-ups. Pop-up chefs are passionate about their craft, and that’s why your food will always be something to remember at a pop-up. Mediocre food might be the case in some tired restaurants serving the same menu for years, but not when it comes to pop-up dining. The menu always changes, and recipes are constantly reinvented.
Pop-ups: Connecting Over FoodBut it’s not just about the food. According to Charles, the draw of the pop-up is that you get a personalized experience. There’s a more intimate dining setting, with small table sizes and limited seating. You have a relationship with the chef, making and serving the food in front of you. It’s about connection: filling a void in a busy city with college students and young professionals away from home. Charles tells me that “If you grew up with a parent in the household who cooked, or a nanny, you create that kind of special bond”.
Cooking Inspiration: One-Pot WondersCharles remembers his parents cooking for him when he was younger. His mom used fresh produce while his dad was infamous for “dad dinners”, using things like boxed mac and cheese, canned ingredients, and dried basil from the shaker. He laughs as he tells me this. His dad also tried to use dishes sparingly when preparing a meal, so as to avoid generating a pile of dishes in the sink.
“When I cook for myself, I’m always thinking, what can I use again? What flavors do I want to create? Can I deglaze the pan with something else I’m going to make later?”This pared down style of cooking has influenced Charles, too. “When something is on a pan, that’s flavor on the pan. Unless you burn it, that’s actual flavor from your ingredients that could be on your plate. All that stuff is good.. you just need to find a way to incorporate it into the next thing, which is where the French deglazing technique comes in” he tells me.
Noodles for LunchAfter the interview, Charles and I head out for lunch. He says casually “let’s find some noodles”, while pulling out his phone to do a Yelp search. We eat at a four-table neighborhood spot in Coolidge Corner, Soup Shack. Charles orders ramen with tofu, telling me about his pescatarian tendencies. I eat my Tonkotsu ramen with added chili oil, snapping intermittent photos as I pull the noodles into the air with my chopsticks. Charles looks out the window onto Harvard Avenue softly. We talk about his family, his affinity for the Boston area, and I start to think of the future of pop-ups. There’s one thing for sure: restaurant dining is here to stay, but pop-up restaurants offer something entirely different. The future of pop-up dining is unsure, but Charles Isadore has many more Cacio e Pepes and Carbonaras in his future.
Charles Isadore is a pasta obsessed, musician-turned chef. Check out his website and follow him on Instagram to learn more about his pop-up events.