Despite the oft-discussed high cost of living and doing business in the Bay Area, San Francisco chefs and restaurateurs are still opening restaurants. To mitigate the risk of such an undertaking, pop-ups are still a popular proving ground for concepts, giving chefs the opportunity to test dishes and ideas, and an opportunity to gain followers.
That’s the idea behind Immi, the pop-up from Kevin Law and Rumpasri Chicharoen, that has been operating monthly from Dogpatch’s Glena’s Tacos. The duo — who are married — are both first generation Americans who grew up in California: Law, whose family is from Hong Kong and Taiwan, grew up in Sunnyvale; Chicharoen, whose family is from Thailand, grew up in Los Angeles.
Immi (an abbreviation of immigrant) is their translation of that experience, bringing the Asian food they ate in their California homes to a restaurant setting. “Candice’s rice pilaf,” is an example, a dish named after Law’s mother’s version and served at a recent pop-up dinner alongside a grilled hanger steak topped with an assortment of pristine, organic Asian greens like shiso and celtuce. Pork belly and cabbage guo tie are accompanied by updated condiments like fermented jalapeño paste, fresno chili oil, and more traditional black rice vinegar and soy sauce.
The menu reflects familial and geographic influences, as well as Law’s time spent at restaurants like Central Kitchen and Ubuntu. Both went on to cook during the early years of State Bird Provisions and the Progress, where Chicharoen was a sous chef (and worked on the restaurant’s cookbook) and Law was chef de cuisine. After leaving the Bay Area to travel, they landed at Blue Hill at Stone Barns; the two returned to San Francisco last year with their infant son.
Those months of travels, predominantly through Asian countries, was another stepping stone for Immi. “You know when a lot of cooks travel they stage [at restaurants] but for us we needed to be diners,” says Chicharoen. “We felt so much warmth from the places that we went to, even though there was a complete language barrier. We want to replicate that, we want that feeling.”
Upon their return to the states, Law worked as a sous chef at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Chicharoen stepped out of the kitchen for a stint in the front of the house, while participating in the F.A.R.M.S apprenticeship program, an externship allowing participants the chance to work in the fields, greenhouse, or livestock pastures once a week. It added on to the foundation set at SF’s State Bird Provisions and the Progress, where chef and mentor Stuart Brioza’s relationship with nearby farms sets the tone for the menu, and restaurants’ ethos.
Now, Immi works with Radical Family Farms, a newly founded farm in Sebastopol, to source organic, heritage Asian vegetables. Like Chicharoen and Law, Radical Family Farms owner Leslie Wiser is exploring her own roots — first generation Chinese-German — through food. At Radical Family Farms, she’s growing Asian greens like gai lan, bok choy, Chinese and Japanese mustard greens, snap peas and celtuce alongside German butterball potatoes.
Law and Chicharoen have been hosting pop-ups monthly at Glena’s with a $65 set menu and beer and wine for purchase, with the goal of eventually opening their own restaurant in the city. “I want to be able to have something to call our own,” says Law. “I think [Immi] is sort of nostalgia, Asian-American nostalgia food that you eat growing up but a little bit modernized, using the experience that we have to update it.”
Stay tuned for more details on Immi’s next available pop-up.
- Immi [Official]