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All Are Welcome At Joshua Ploeg’s Pop-Up Vegan Cafe

What if cooks toured the country like musicians? And what if they gave their “performances” in your dining room? Joshua Ploeg is doing just that.

joshua ploeg in kitchen

[photo 1]

It’s A Dinner Party

Eric Ayotte and Charlie Jones are throwing a dinner party for their friends. Ayotte moved all the chairs, the couch and TV out of the way. “We are in our living room that we’ve now kind of changed and formed into a little cafe,” he says. “Trying to give as much of an authentic cafe feel as we possibly can here at our house.”

It’s about one hour before guests should start filing in. At this point, most dinner party hosts would be frantic with last-minute preparations, but they’re both relaxed. Jones says this is one of the easiest dinner parties she’s ever thrown. “We get to host people, make people feel welcome, but we don’t have to do any of the cooking,” she says. “We’ve got a wonderful chef here to cook all the food.”

The chef is a soft-spoken guy who’s mopping his sweaty brow and breathing a sigh of relief after a long day of cooking. Joshua Ploeg has scattered the six courses of his vegan feast all over the house.

“There’s ample space here, but if I’m plating, too, then I have to put things in cubby holes,” he tells me, as we admire the brownie shortbread resting on top of the dryer in the utility room.

[photo 2]

Life On The Road

Ask Ploeg where he’s from and he’s not really sure how to answer. He’s been traveling the country for much of the past decade, and that suits him just fine.

[pullquote]Your band’s not going to play seven shows in Minneapolis but I can cook seven dinners without much trouble there.[/pullquote]

He started off as a musician, traveling from basement show to basement show with several different punk bands. Occasionally he would do food demonstrations or prepare snacks for the guests. He received enough positive feedback that he compiled his own cookbook.

He then tapped into his existing contacts in the DIY music scene to jump start his idea of a traveling pop-up cafe.

“The tour model is absolutely from playing in punk bands, and I just decided that it was a great idea to use that model to cook,” he says. “It actually works better for cooking than it does for playing music… Your band’s not going to play seven shows in Minneapolis but I can cook seven dinners without much trouble there.”

Vegan Food For All

Jones went shopping with him this morning, so she knew what components he purchased, but she couldn’t sketch out the menu on the chalkboard in the living room until the dishes were basically complete.

“I was surprised at how spontaneous he is about the whole thing,” says Jones.

[photo 3]

There’s one guarantee about Ploeg’s food — it will be vegan. The details of the dishes come to him as he shops for ingredients.

“I write notes in line as we’re checking out and everything’s going by on the conveyer belt, which is fun because usually the checker is looking at me funny,” he says. “Then I explain the whole secret cafe idea, the traveling paid dinner party, and they’re amazed.”

Ploeg is calling this hi Mediterranean-Meets-Californian Vegan Hoosier Feast:

  • Lima Bean Minestrone Soup
  • Gluten-free pasta with roasted pepper, tomato, paprika and cinnamon broth
  • Pineapple Caesar salad
  • Roasted vegetable terrine with crispy potatoes, rutabagas, spinach and eggplant
  • Black-eyed pea coleslaw with purple cabbage and cider vinaigrette
  • Brownie shortbread with fruit compote

This isn’t a money-making venture for Ploeg. Guests are encouraged to contribute what they can to help pay for groceries. He takes a little bit to cover his personal expenses, but he doesn’t need much to get by.

Once the dinner party is over, Eric and Charlie will move the couch back into place in the living room, and that’s where Joshua will crash for the night.

[photo 4]

More: Joshua Ploeg just released a new cookbook, This Ain’t No Picnic: Your Punk Rock Vegan Cookbook. You can order a copy from his website.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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