Chef Juliana Fitts grew up in Brazil in her family’s restaurant. On Sundays, her extended family would get together for a big lunch, where her Italian immigrant grandmother, aunts, and sisters would all serve up good food and create sweet memories.
“A love of food has been ingrained in me since I was young,” said Fitts. After living for a while in the Boston area and training in Europe, she moved to Sammamish, where she fell in love with the people and the fresh ingredients. While she currently lives in California, she has been “popping up” as Juliana The Pop Up Chef, creating amazing dining experiences all over the place, including a recent dinner in an undisclosed Bellevue family’s backyard. Guests sat on the lush lawn on oversized pillows surrounding a long table for an unforgettable night of live violin music, wine, and fantastic food.
“The (Eastside) will also hold a special place in my heart as the place I found family away from home,” she said. “Having friends over for an impromptu dinner, sharing a casual meal, and enjoying spontaneous gatherings with loved ones replicated the big Italian Sunday lunches that I used to have when growing up in Brazil. It was really easy to make this place my home.”
The idea of creating pop-up dinner experiences started a couple of years ago, when a friend called her and said, “Hi. I found a location, and you are doing a restaurant pop-up,’” said Fitts. “I was running in between meetings, and the last thing I remember saying to her was, ‘Sure!’ She went and created the online event, and in less than 24 hours, we were completely sold out with a significant waitlist.”
Just when things looked “easy,” the location canceled because of a malfunctioning stove hood. “I was in crisis mode trying to find a place to seat 30 people.” A friend offered a place — it came with one hot plate and two large pizza ovens. It was like a real-life Food Network challenge. And it was invigorating. “It made me realize that the way I would want to share my passion for food was through all the unknowns of a pop-up,” Fitts said.
The pop-up restaurant concept allows the chef to go to any location — and work independently and creatively with the best foods of the season. It also is a great way to meet new vendors, work with a variety of people and “not feel anchored to the same menu every night.”
“With all that comes a lot of ambiguity and unknowns, and I think this thrill is what feeds my soul,” she said.
During the Bellevue pop-up dinner, Fitts served 30 people and had several more hoping for a spot on the waitlist. The theme was “Secret Garden — Celebrating the Pacific Northwest,” and the menu had a twist of humor and a whole lot of flavor. Guests enjoyed what she called Self-Absorbed Squid, which was squid ink and chorizo risotto stuffed into whole squids and broiled with garlic oil. They also enjoyed The Italian Playboy, a creative rabbit lasagna with noodle sheets made of fresh pea shoots; The Goat and the Beanstalk, a fresh Tieton Farm goat cheese served with fava beans and mint; and Garden Baskets, black rice salad and more fresh ingredients served in butter lettuce cups. Everything was, of course, paired with amazing wines. Dessert was a fresh peach and blueberry galette — the crust infused with basil and lemon zest and topped with a simple scoop of vanilla.
“The Pacific Northwest gifted us with a perfect evening! Our guests began to arrive at 6:30 to our secret location, where they were greeted by a refreshing Champagne cocktail and a live violin performance,” Fitts said. “The guests had the opportunity to mingle and connect in the inviting atmosphere specially created for the occasion. A custom-built table was crafted to accommodate all the guests comfortably.
“The table was constructed like a catwalk — closer to the ground —so that guests could sit on pillows and throws. This allowed for a communal dining experience. The dishes were served family-style so that guests could interact with each other. As the night approached, torches were lit around the garden, and everyone could enjoy the dessert by candlelight.”
Find Juliana The Pop Up Chef
Each experience is unique — so prices vary depending on several factors. You can also sign up on her mailing list to learn about future dining experiences. Learn more at julianathepopupchef.com.