Friday, November 29, 2013

Selling at Island East Markets

C and I have been going to Island East Markets quite regularly since when it first started late last year - enjoying the many stalls selling artisan food products and fresh, seasonal and local produce, as well as many interesting events happening every Sunday right at our neighborhood.

The idea of setting up our own stall at the market came from casual conversations among ourselves and some friends, and came to materialize when the kind folks at Island East Markets (IEM) granted us stalls for 2 Sundays in October and our friend V, aka HKFashionGeek, of Sparks Studios agreed to share the stall with us. We figure it's more fun doing this with more people.

Have never dealt with so many pork belly at one time before!
We wanted to bring some "State Fair" atmosphere to the markets, so we decided to make mini sliders and lemonade, both common items at those fairs. Knowing having beef patty and pickles would have been too cliche for the market-going crowd, I did something fancier, with Maryland crabcakes, Sous Vide Pork Belly and Duck Cassoulet my choices for sliders. I even threw in a vegetarian option with champignon and Puy lentils cooked Moraccan-style with Ras el Hanout spices. I even baked my own bread using a brioche recipe I found online. Lemonade was made the old-fashioned way, with just freshly squeezed lemon juice, water and syrup.

One final tasting before the actual event... Maryland crabcake with siracha aioli, Sous Vide pork belly with smoked plum jam, Duck cassoulet with white bean puree, Moroccan-inspired Champignon and Puy Lentils
We had no illusion that this is easy but it still turned out to be harder than we thought. Baking our own slider buns was the most time-consuming and difficult, but I think towards the end I got a much better hold of it and they did come out okay - much to my relief. Most of the preparation work was done on the Saturday right before and we finished at around midnight, so at least we got some sleep before working the whole day Sunday at the market. It could be straight forward when you made a batch of maybe 20 when we entertain at home, but it's a totally different ballgame when you have to made 100, not to mention we were dealing with a much less forgiving crowd when people actually paid for your food.

I would say our first Sunday was smoother than we expected despite glitches here and there - including realizing we didn't bring our frying pan 10 minutes before the market open! We did make the rookie mistake of making too much food (we ended up spending the next 2 weeks trying to finish up the leftovers at home) but still turned out a minor profit, surprisingly. (probably amounting to minimum wage for two of us considered how much time we have put in) Some friends stopped by and gave us the much needed support, and we love the sense of community with a few friends operating stalls nearby - including Greg's Bread Elements and Goz's PlusSixFive, so we could hang out and try other people's food. It was a fun Sunday despite the hard labor.

On second week's menu: Crabcake with Duck Fat Homestyle Potatoes
Taking what we learned from our first Sunday, we re-adjusted our strategy in the second week. We streamlined the menu to offer only one option and cut down significantly on the quantity we offered. We also got better in getting the right amount of ingredients hence minimized extras or wastage. So for second Sunday, we made a bigger portion of crabcakes served with siracha aioli and served with duck fat homestyle potatoes - using the duck fat we got from our cassoulet in the previous week. We sold out by 3pm, much to our delight.

Thank you all for your Instagram love!
In retrospect, we did enjoy the whole experience. We were touched by friends who came out to support, some even from faraway places, and also flattered by customers' compliments and their repeat orders. Nothing brightened my day more than seeing people coming back and told us how much they loved the food, taking pictures and posting positive comments on social media, some of whom we haven't even met before. I even got a couple from Maryland who said the crabcakes were as authentic as the ones they had back in their hometown of Annapolis, or one commenting the lemonade was the best ever he has had. We were greatly encouraged by their kind words, and we did have a sense of accomplishments looking back as we packed up after our last outing. 

Some people asked whether we would do it again. Well, we probably will, after we forget how tiring the whole exercise was. And hopefully next time we would get better at this.

Island East Markets at 8am. First time we saw the stalls being set up from scratch!

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