Think you know what’s on a restaurant menu? We’ve all heard of the off-menu dishes, secret dishes only insiders know about. But there is a dish, every day, that is never on the menu of any customer, no matter how informed. It is the family meal, the dinner served to chefs and restaurant staff before or after their service.
In his cookbook, The Family Meal, Ferran Adrià unveiled what staff were served at his three Michelin star El Bulli restaurant in northeastern Spain, which was named the world’s best restaurant. five times. And it wasn’t olives and mosses exploding. Simple but tasty recipes ranged from slow cooked Mexican pork to Japanese sea bream, and even a quick tortilla recipe that uses crisps instead of potatoes.
Now Jonny Boyle, one of the three people behind Sticks, a Japanese-inspired pop-up that sold their first Storyboard run at Islandbridge at the end of 2019, and had to cancel its sold-out dates at Fumbally Stables in 2020 due to the pandemic, is embarking on the family meal business. Well, not quite.
Boyle put his pop-up plans on hold and decided it was time to give a little back to the special places that had made him smile during the pandemic. So he devised a small-scale plan to feed the feeders, for restaurants that have small staff and normally don’t have family meals. He walks in, foots the bill, and cooks a four-course Japanese-inspired meal to say thank you.
“None of the restaurants I worked at were fancy enough for a family meal,” says Boyle, who worked in kitchens all the way through college, going from dishwasher to chef, and works now as a creative director. “We thought it would be wrong to do a pop-up right now when restaurants are in trouble and about to go through a success or disruption phase. And we haven’t done anything since 2019.
So we thought, we can have a family meal a few times, give a little back, and maybe have a little love for what we’re doing. It’s also a good way to bring some attention back to Sticks.
Sticks is inspired by the Japanese culture of yakitori, kushiyaki and kushikatsu skewers, but also brings global influences. Boyle describes what they do as delivering aroma bombs on sticks.
Their 2019 pop-ups, which sold out before most people even heard of them, focused on a seven-course omakase menu paired with natural wines and sake.
For their Family Meal pop-ups, he reused an airplane cart with a small Konro grill for his workstation. This is typical of what is used in Japanese yakitori restaurants. It’s a neat set-up that ensures it doesn’t get in the way in the restaurant kitchen.
So what’s on the menu? Last weekend, the Hang Dai crew were treated to a family meal on bamboo skewers of yaki onigiri (a grilled rice ball), tsukune (Japanese skewers of chicken balls seasoned with fresh ginger, d (garlic, green onions and sesame oil), pork belly barley miso and toasted marshmallow ice cream.
And next weekend, he’ll be heading to the Stoneybatter Fish Shop to feed the team there.
This is only an invitation for chefs at the moment, but Boyle has plans for the future. “In September, we’ll figure out what to do next,” he says.
“We have an idea of what we would like to do. Finding places was difficult. It might get easier, but maybe not, who knows? So I’m just parking this for now. Definitely, the idea is to come back and do more pop-ups.
After that, Boyle will decide the most logical direction. “Stay tuned for more,” he says. And that means sticking to @sticks_dublin on Instagram and creating an alert.