On Saturday afternoon in Ivy City, vendors from every corner of the DMV crammed their wares into Union Kitchen for an exposition on locally-made goods. Union Kitchen’s “Meet the Makers” brought in food and drinks from over 80 vendors, featuring everything from dulce de leche-filled donuts to harissa-mint popcorn, all precariously arranged on a series of folding tables and food prep counters, with absolutely no shoulder room. Things got weird.
Cullen Gilchrist and his team are hard at work. What was once a fledgling concept only a few short years ago is now not unlike an independent foodie league of heroes. The mission is simple enough: bring good food to good people, make it locally, and market it broadly. TaKorean, for example, started out as a food truck partner with Union Kitchen back in 2013. Four years later, they have three brick-and-mortar locations in the area. The team at Union Kitchen does good work.
They also have remarkably short attention spans, and honestly seem to delight in the manic nature of D.C.’s food scene. Snacklins’ vegan “pork rind” snacks (which are obviously laced with heroin, given their addictive nature) were on the same table and only inches away from Righteous Felon’s home-made beef jerky. Anywhere else, this might seem either careless, or possibly tongue-in-cheek. However, Union Kitchen treats food like an anthropological tool, both in highlighting the diversity of tastes in the District, and in fostering the initiative to try new things.
Which is exactly what the crowd did for a few hours on Saturday afternoon. A few familiar names could be seen in the lines of tables and counters, Maki Shop and Milk Cult among them. Newer additions to the ranks, like DC Vegan catering and Lord of the Pies also showed up en force, with new offerings and adventurous ideas. However, only a few of the vendors are distributed directly through Union Kitchen; the majority of the food at “Meet the Makers” came from independent chefs, either looking to catch the eye of a potential partner, or unveiling their work for the first time.
This kind of event gives vendors every chance to act competitively, cut throats, step on toes, and intimidate opposition. Curiously, despite the crowds, chaos, and clamor, none of the vendors seemed outwardly shark-like. Vendors lined up alongside the press, too, trying out their neighbors’ offerings. Although it’s difficult to prove exactly where and when food ideas are conceived, some of the vendors almost definitely drew new inspiration from sampling the swath of goods on Saturday.
The District has seen unprecedented growth and development over the past five years. There’s a new bar every weekend. It looks more and more like we’re hitting a saturation point, and the bubble might burst. Some of the development is good, and leads to creative initiatives. Most of the time, development is profit-driven, and is expressly implemented to make a buck. Union Kitchen, it seems, has found a higher calling: foster creativity, make a unique product, develop a solid and sustainable business model, do it without fucking anyone over, repeat.
Looking at all of the food, all of the vendors, all of the members of the press, and all of the enthusiasts who showed up in droves on Saturday, nothing is going to keep Union Kitchen from trying new things, and showing them off to the District.