Sometimes life emulates the movies — like when a restaurant chef decides to ditch his chef's whites for the food-truck life. Jon Favreau did it in Chef, scrapping his tired chocolate lava cake in favor of Cuban street food. Here in Denver, Brandon Becker, who has worked as executive chef at Red Square Euro Bistro and Blackbird Public House, is launching a new food truck called Cirque Kitchen — but with a twist. In addition to standard walk-up service, Becker's truck will also be used as a mobile kitchen for multi-course pop-up dinners.
Before the pop-up dinners begin, Cirque Kitchen will roll with a menu of rice bowls and sandwiches built on Venezuelan-style arepas. Dishes will rotate every eight weeks or so and will be based on street food from different countries. "My purpose in life is to connect people through food," Becker explains. "I want to bring Denver together through street food from around the world."
In case you haven't traveled to Venezuela or sampled the country's cuisine here in Colorado, an arepa is a thick corn-flour cake that's generally griddled (resulting in a crisp exterior and a fluffy interior), split in two and stuffed with meats, cheese, beans, plantains or other Latin American foods. Becker's arepa recipe is traditional, but his fillings are inspired by regional sandwiches from the U.S. and abroad; already planned are arepas fashioned after a pork-belly banh mi, a Maine lobster roll and a Philly cheesesteak. Rice bowls will come topped with other globally inspired combos like tuna poke or Thai curry chicken.
But after two months, Cirque will change to a new menu; Becker says he's already planning a menu of Italian street food, including his own gelato for dessert. The truck is currently under construction but has already been accepted for a regular Wednesday lunch slot at Civic Center Eats; the chef is aiming for a May 15 launch.
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For pop-up dinners, Becker wants to set up at breweries and unusual locations like Colorado parks (he's already been talking to parks and rec departments to obtain proper permitting) to offer a full dining experience with a service staff and special menus. For brewery dinners, he will work with brewers to come up with beer-and-food pairings that would enhance the overall experience. To add to the mystery and excitement, exact locations will be kept secret until the last minute. Becker is no stranger to pulling off pop-up dinners; he has previously served dinners under the Cirque Kitchen name at Comal Heritage Food Incubator, the Growhaus and Hogshead Brewery, to name a few.
Becker hasn't entirely given up on the restaurant world, though. While his truck will operate under the name Cirque Kitchen, his business is licensed as Cirque Kitchen and Spirits — allowing him long-term flexibility to eventually open as a brick-and-mortar. And he's also acting as consulting chef on the opening of a new Italian restaurant in the former Patsy's space (3651 Navajo Street) from the owners of the Hornet. That one has an ETA of mid- to late April.
In the meantime, Becker is keeping his knives and skills sharp at charity events around Denver. Next up is SAME Cafe's So All May Eat Gala on March 22, where he'll join forces with chefs from City, O' City, the Corner Beet Cafe, Work Options for Women, ACRES at Warren Tech and others.