Atlanta chef goes global with pop-up Gourmet Street Foods

Carla Fears of the Atlanta pop-up Gourmet Street Foods / Courtesy of Carla Fears

Credit: Courtesy of Carla Fears

Credit: Courtesy of Carla Fears

Carla Fears of the Atlanta pop-up Gourmet Street Foods / Courtesy of Carla Fears

It takes just a glance at the rotating list of dishes served by Atlanta pop-up Gourmet Street Foods to see that its culinary influences are many and varied.

Menus have focused on Japanese, Mediterranean and Mexican cuisines, and a recent appearance at pop-up incubator Punk Foodie at Ponce City Market featured Southern-style brunch dishes.

The pop-up (instagram.com/gourmet_street_foods), launched by chef Carla Fears in late 2019, is a testament to the diversity of experiences she’s encountered over the years. She grew up in Miami, surrounded by Jamaican, and Haitian cooking, and in the kitchen of her Southern grandmother, who specialized in dishes like collard greens and cornbread.

“I’d watch the emotion of the house change from chaotic to, we’re eating and it’s quiet, to, this is our meal and this is our comfort. That always intrigued me as a kid. It became a passion.”

During her time as a student at Alabama State University, she honed both her business and cooking skills by selling plates of homemade chicken wings, salmon and rice to other students out of her apartment.

A dish from the menu of Gourmet Street Foods / Courtesy of Gourmet Street Foods

Credit: Courtesy of Gourmet Street Foods

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Credit: Courtesy of Gourmet Street Foods

As an adult, she scored her first food job as a line cook at the now-shuttered club 201 Courtland. She also worked at Two Urban Licks, Lobby at Twelve, Spice Market with acclaimed chef Zeb Stevenson and at Shed at Glenwood under the direction of Todd Richards.

In 2019, she was chosen for a nine-month James Beard Foundation externship in Chicago, where she was mentored by a chef who specialized in cooking Indian and Latin food, and also worked with Rick Bayless, restaurateur and host of the PBS show “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.”

When Fears returned to Atlanta later that year, she decided to strike out on her own, but didn’t want the stress of opening a brick-and-mortar.

“I realized I could be totally independent and do what I loved to do, but also love my life,” she said.

Fears, who described Gourmet Street Foods as “global street foods done in a culinary technique aspect,” has since popped up at metro Atlanta breweries including Halfway Crooks, Sceptre Brewing Arts, Arches Brewing and Wild Heaven while also working as a private chef and caterer for corporate events.

The menu changes nearly every time Fears does a pop-up, with dishes developed from countries she’s either visited or studied. Her most-requested item is the chopped cheese sandwich, which she describes as “if a cheesesteak and hamburger had a baby and was born in Brooklyn,” with chopped meat, tomatoes, cheese and onions on a hoagie roll. Tlayudas, a Oaxacan dish with toppings piled on a crispy tortilla, are also popular; for her recent brunch pop-up at Punk Foodie, she cooked croissant and berry bread pudding French toast and Marsala cream shrimp and grits with Hawaiian toast.

“Whatever the energy is that I’m feeling, that’s how I make up my menus,” Fears said. “It’s like a painter, you put your paint on your tray, and wherever your mind takes you, you go. As a Black woman, I won’t allow anyone to put anything I do in a particular box.”

Gourmet Street Foods got a boost late last year when Fears’ recipe for tempura-fried sardines on top of black squid ink cheddar grits was among the dishes prepared at Atlanta’s inaugural Michelin Guide announcement event.

Down the road, Fears hopes to host supper club dinners and eventually to bring her pop-up to an island where she cancook simple American food for people with their produce and ingredients. I want to spread the power of food that I have throughout the world.”

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