Friday, September 28, 2012

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This Vending Life

A chef mentor friend suggested that I need to get myself "out there". "Auria,  you need some exposure. People need to taste your food and know who you are". Wait a minute, isn't that why I've been doing these cooking classes and writing this blog? Ok,  I know that all of two people read my blog (one of whom is my husband) and at most there are 8 - 10 people at a class. So I have to admit my work thus far hasn't really "built an audience" for Auria's Malaysian Kitchen. I also admit that stepping out to sell food to the masses feels a little like jumping off a cliff. There's so much unknown out there. Courage, where are you? I won't go into all the other reasons why I took so long to get here. Suffice it to say that it all boiled down to fear and angst, which have been loyal, lifelong companions. Fast forward. 
I looked around at opportunities to present myself to the public. Someone mentioned the Brooklyn Flea.  Neena and I went on a fact-finding mission on a lovely, sunny Saturday. I had a much-too-delicious Porchetta sandwich. Pork,  how I love thee! Neena had a fancy icy treat from La Newyorkina and followed that up with some ice-cream. It was much too nice out to argue about the quality of her lunch, so I focused on watching the vendors - taking note of how they were set up,  what sort of gear they had, coolers, tables, chalkboards to advertise their wares, foil, cardboard trays, plastic cups, napkin dispensers, andawholelotofotherstuff. Neena decided to share her ice-cream with a daring pigeon and I continued to take mental notes while conquering the devil on my shoulder who was pressing me to head back to the Porchetta table. I came away with a sense that this food-vending thing was definitely do-able and remembered one Sunday morning some twenty-five years ago when I awoke at 5am to help my mother cook a giant pot of chicken curry for a church breakfast sale. We prepped and cooked together, then headed to church to set up at the tables outside the church. I helped sell a myriad of food items - told folks what was available, packaged up the orders, took the money and made change. Surely that was practice for what was to come, all these many years later.  Something about the gorgeous sunny day, being outdoors and the memory of that church breakfast sale filled me with determination that I would have a table at the Flea in a couple of months. And yes - Malaysians eat curry for breakfast!!  :o)
I never did get that table at the Flea. Perhaps,  I'm too much of a nobody yet to stand in the hallowed halls of food vending alongside Asia Dog, Red Hook Lobster Pound and Solber Pupusas. I wrote to inquire about a booth and I never heard back. Not even a one-line email. Not even "meh,  who are you?" Alright Flea - I will see you NEXT summer.  Perhaps.
A little crestfallen,  I accepted that I had to learn to walk before I fly.  
Two weeks later, I see an email on our neighborhood newsgroup requesting vendors to sign up for a new sidewalk market in our neighborhood, the beautiful Ditmas Park. Without a second's thought,  I shoot off an email explaining who I am and what I cook and what I will sell. Isn't this how the best things come to light - without too much hemming and hawing and thinking and pondering AKA "thinking oneself to a standstill". I sent that email off and the next day there was an email from The Brooklyn ARTery in my Inbox. "Dear Auria,  We would love to have you at ...................."  Aaarrrrrrrggggghhhhhhh, happy dance around the room and my next thought was "OMG,  what have I got myself into?"
The next step was getting all my permits and licenses in order.  Don't get me started. However I will say two things - every trip to the Department of Health feels like a trip to the principal's office and the security guard is a clone of Louis Gossett Jr. Just take LGJ out of his army uniform in Top Gun and put him in a security guard's uniform. He's lovely and seems to have a nice word or a joke to share with each person on line. He's like the principal's nice secretary who feels sorry for you that you have to be there and tries to make it better. I wish you all could see him. I know we'll be on a first-name basis in a couple more visits. Yes,  the permit-getting never ceases. I will probably have to go back there every two weeks or so. Fast forward!
The big day finally arrives. It's 6am and I went to bed a mere two hours ago. Why? Because beef rendang usually takes about five to six hours to cook, but a HUMONGOUS pot of rendang takes oh..... about TWELVE!  I'm so excited I don't even care. 
We arrive at our spot, meet the lovely organizers and open up my brand new tent. Set up my brand new table and spread my brand new yellow checked tablecloth on it. Rolled out my brand new banner. See where I'm going with this? Yes, we're NEW at this!

For a bunch of newbies, we couldn't have done any better. My crew went above and beyond all expectations.  Matt, Tim and Sara had very different and complimentary skills - everything from smiling and drawing the crowd in, to talking to everyone who went by, to explaining what beef rendang and that weird green drink were, to managing every aspect of the table. They were my courage, my fortitude and my heart. Above all,  the four of us had a great day together. A ton of people asked us where our restaurant was.  The answer varied from "We don't have one yet" to "We're working on it" to "You're IN our restaurant". Did they think we were pros who had restaurant experience? Was our utter newness not apparent? Well I guess I just blew those illusions with this blog post, huh? At the end of a very successful day, there was a point at which I could have kept going for a whole 'nother day. I was energized, animated, motivated, invigorated. I went home and fell into bed at 7pm.  I slept for twelve hours.
Yesterday, a mere eleven days after our first outing at The Brooklyn Flea, we worked a fancy Manhattan night market called Hester Nights.  Folks were coming up to our table and saying that they were told to come try our beef rendang sliders. What a gorgeous night it was and boy, did we have a good time. Wait a minute - where's all that fear and angst now? It's given way to an eagerness to get out there, keep putting it out there and an upbeat expectation of what's to come. 
See you at The Brooklyn ARTery this Sunday,  Sept 30th from 11am - 3pm.

PS My next offering at The Brooklyn ARTery in two weeks will be Chili Crab Sliders.  My next post will be a recipe for Chinese flowering chives.  Have you had those?  OMG,  I can't wait for you to try them.  

Hard at work.  Comparing playlists.  :o)
These Honeydew/Coconut Milk/Pearl Tapioca drinks were a hit!
Setting up at Hester Nights

Come eat!

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1 comment:

  1. I tried your beef sliders for the first time today at the Ditmas Park farmer's market, and they were DELICIOUS! We are hooked, and I'll be back for chili crabs in two weeks Please keep coming back to the market. I'll send more people your way!