New Orleans‘ recent culinary history is littered with restaurants that got their start in less-than-traditional spaces. Chefs with more ideas than capital have set up shop in market stalls, food trucks, or anywhere with a flat-top to spare. Many of the city’s modern success stories found their footing in bars, slinging fresh bites from a take-out window and hoping for buzz from locals who had their own one going.
But if we’re being truthful, all of our restaurants, new and old, kicked off in someone’s kitchen. Tiki Time is just a bit more honest about it.
The inaugural, full-service edition of the tropical fusion pop-up took place earlier this month in the Mid-City kitchen and backyard of Christoph Dornemann, who dreamed up the combination of Caribbean and Asian cuisine alongside his fellow chefs Sergio Gonzalez Pegan and Fernando Sanjenis Gutierrez after Dornemann ingested the cocktail books of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry while traveling through Asia.
“I don’t remember when this happened but I was told by my boss [at the Quarter’s upscale French 75 bar] Chris Hannah to buy the Beachbum Berry cocktail books,” Dornemann explained. “There’s a few of them but I bought ‘Surfin’ Safari.’ And I was on a trip to Thailand and I brought my Tiki cocktail book and read through it. I was really interested in not just the stories but the unique ingredients and just the culture behind it.”
Dornemann’s interest in the book and the logistics of traveling collided. He drafted up a mock cocktail menu while on a long layover.
And when he brought the idea of doing a Tiki cocktail pop-up to friends that he had started a cooking club with while he was still a student at Loyola University, they were interested. But they had one request: They wanted to add a food menu.
“One of my friends asked me if I would want to do like some Caribbean food to go with the drinks,” he said. “But if you read into Tiki history, most of the classic Tiki bars were attached to Asian restaurants. So they had a lot of Asian-focused food. We were trying to do a combination of Caribbean and Puerto Rican cuisine and these Asian dishes that are all over Southeast Asia.”
The resulting menu was a blend of Puerto Rican, Asian, and Southern food traditions, featuring everything from Puerto Rican pincho chicken skewers tossed in a twisted take on Yakitori sauce to fried catfish seasoned with a blend of lemongrass, coriander, and other spices and served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce.
Of course, this whole outing started with the drinks conjured by Dornemann. And they were the star of the show at Tiki Time’s first full outing. The signature drink, Black Pearl, was a refreshing mix of Jamaican rum, mezcal, and citrus served with an arresting black ice sphere made with squid ink.
While Tiki Time is still in its infancy, serving food and drinks out of Dornemann’s home for guests to eat in his backyard, the chef and bartender has big ideas about where it can go. He said he has been heartened by the pop-up pipeline that has grown throughout the city and is hoping that Tiki Time can take the same path.
“I’m sure there are other cities that are having this sort of phenomenon. But there’s so many pop-ups everywhere and there’s so much freedom in this city to be able to do that,” he said. “Blue Oak Barbecue is one of my favorite places and I used to go to them when they were just running out of the Chickie Wah Wah little spot. Watching them have this tiny little basically closet-sized space in a bar and now they have this huge space that’s doing so well. It’s just amazing.”
Dornemann says that the plan for now is to turn Tiki Time into a monthly pop-up in various rotating kitchens and pop-up-friendly spaces throughout the city. “It’s a good way to get my name out there and hopefully build a following and momentum and eventually get a real place.”
With the city’s growing interest in Tiki bars (see: Central City’s Portside Lounge and the French Quarter’s Latitude 29) and the ever-present love of fried food done well, Tiki Time might be leaving Christoph’s kitchen behind sooner rather than later.
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Header image courtesy of Christoph Dornemann.