None of the 40 or so guests at a recent pop-up were receptive when I referred to FrankenKitchen as Adrian Hulet’s Monster. Few people remember that Frankenstein was the name of the brilliant scientist who decided to play god, not the magniloquent former corpse in Mary Shelly’s novel. Or maybe they all remembered and just weren’t entertained by my hacky stab at a literary joke.
FrankenKitchen, the outdoor super-grill pieced together from various kitchen parts that have been purchased, found, restored, or gifted, lives in Hulet’s backyard at his Southwest Fort Worth home. Among its conjoined parts are a smoker, two-bay fryer, gas range, flattop grill, five-foot grill, and a butcher-block workspace. On a recent Sunday evening, the creature came to life, as chefs Fabián Alvarado of CevichiFW, mad-scientist/chef Josh Harmon of Butler’s Cabinet, and pop-up queen Hao Tran of Hao and Dixya each cranked out restaurant-quality grub in a relaxed, family-barbecue setting. The host even pitched in a course and more than held his own.
Hulet, best known as the keyboardist/vocalist of the now-defunct indie outfit Oso Closo and other bands, owns and manages Fort Worth Mom & Pops, a community organization/social media page that highlights independently owned restaurants in the area. The pop-up, which was free thanks to a few sponsors (I’ll name them later), was populated by mostly industry folks, a few of Hulet’s neighbors, and the guy who fixed his cable a few days earlier and noticed the contraption.
The inspiration for the monster (I’m sticking to that name) came organically, as Hulet compiled cooking equipment and looked for a reason to keep all of it. As he posted pictures of his progress on social media, local interest grew.
“I have a real problem with buying or collecting trashed gear, especially if it’s free,” he said. “I’ve just happened on a lot of stuff. I’ve been gifted an old smoker or whatever, so my garage was just full of equipment.”
The chefs and sponsors of the event, Hulet said, are all friends that started as relationships that he forged through Fort Worth Mom & Pops. Surprisingly, especially to the guests that sampled Hulet’s smoked brisket slider with a pickled red cabbage slaw and serrano crema, he’s never worked in the industry.
“It’s kind of a misconception about me,” he said. “I’ve never worked in a restaurant. I just really admire entrepreneurs, and I love food, so I’ve just immersed myself in that world and befriended a lot of people. I have a heart for people who run restaurants. They take risks, they create culture, and they’re really the life of everything.”
The dinner didn’t consist of coursed-out plates delivered by a waitstaff. When a dish was done, you ambled up to the FrankenKitchen and grabbed a portion. Alvarado kicked off the evening with an outstanding (and piquant) aguachile ceviche, followed by Tran’s dueling bowls of spicy and mild cà ri gà chicken curry. After that, the sangria took hold of my brain, so the details are fuzzy.
I know I enjoyed two portions of Harmon’s Vietnamese-fried chicken with nuoc cham (sauce), soy pickles, and Szechuan salt but didn’t get to try his seafood trio of crawfish, head-on shrimp, and crab claws all wok-seared in garlic and gochujang butter. I vividly remember Tran’s bun cha Vietnamese lemongrass pork patty with vermicelli noodles, and Alvarado’s octopus tacos dredged in a mole sauce were a highlight. Apparently there was a second taco that evaded my greedy grasp.
Hulet said he plans to host FrankenKitchen events quarterly. Several people have approached him about off-site events, but he’s still undecided as to whether or not he’ll pursue the pop-ups as a business.
“Fort Worth Mom & Pops is really my focus, and I want to grow that,” he said. “FrankenKitchen is just kind of a fun thing that we could do every few months.”
Sponsors for last weekend’s event include Jed Barnett – Real Estate Agent, Bearded Brothers Roofing and Restoration, Printed Threads, and Stafford Healing – and, of course, Fort Worth Mom and Pops.