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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Plant-Based Pop-Up Irrational Roots Explores World Flavors Through Loaded Fries

Posted By on Wed, Oct 27, 2021 at 6:19 AM


click to enlarge Irrational Roots uses crispy fried potatoes as a tried and true vehicle for culinary exploration. - COURTESY OF IRRATIONAL ROOTS
  • COURTESY OF IRRATIONAL ROOTS
  • Irrational Roots uses crispy fried potatoes as a tried and true vehicle for culinary exploration.

From as early as the age of five, Josh Essman knew he wanted to be a chef. Singularly focused on following his passion for food, he has memories of putting together traditional Korean New Year feasts for his family as a middle schooler, and executing full-fledged, globally inspired catering jobs when he was a teen. He was so passionate about cooking and food in general that he planned on going to college for food science and seeing where that path would lead him — until a veteran chef who was supposed to offer him words of wisdom told him to get out of Dodge.

"Around seventeen, I had a chat with someone who had been in the industry for 40 years," Essman says. "He said, 'Get the hell out while you can.' He told me that the pay isn't great and that there are a lot of reasons not to go into the culinary field professionally. He told me that if I wanted to keep it as a hobby, that was one thing, but don't be like him and go into it professionally. I was young, so what did I do at that age? I listened to the adult."



Now, five years later, Essman is ready to let go of that negative feedback and dive into the culinary field with his new pop-up, Irrational Roots. Built around the idea of crispy fried potatoes as an approachable vehicle for culinary exploration, Irrational Roots is an upscale take on loaded fries with internationally-inspired toppings.

"Since I'm still getting my feet wet, I wanted to start out with something more casual, but that still captures my passion for world cuisine and the science of food," Essman says. "The idea of potatoes was a 2 a.m. realization thing; the logic is that they go with everything and everyone loves crispy potatoes. I wanted to use something that was really approachable as a vehicle to make things [that are] more unfamiliar with people more approachable."

For the past few years, Essman has been engaged in professional endeavors as far from the culinary world as one can imagine. A graduate of the Missouri University of Science and Technology with a degree in computer science, Essman spends his days working for a national laboratory in the fields of supercomputing and physics simulation. Though he finds the work intellectually fulfilling, he couldn't help but realize, early on, that working at a desk all day was not his cup of tea. After having what he describes as a quarter-life crisis, Essman decided to see if he wanted to explore food as more than a hobby, and staged at restaurants in both Chicago and San Francisco. There, he learned a great deal about the industry, which reignited his desire to pursue cooking as a profession.

For now, he is taking that goal one step at a time, launching Irrational Roots as a pop-up concept while he continues at his day job. This Friday, he will host his second pop-up event at 9 Mile Garden, where, from 9 p.m. until midnight, he will be featuring two different plant-based offerings. The first, a German-style dish inspired by Octoberfest, features winter squash and kohlrabi sauerkraut served over crispy potatoes; his other dish, inspired by the flavors of the Yucatan, will pair roasted poblanos with habanero-citrus hot sauce and achiote.

Though he does not yet have a truck or brick and mortar space in the works, Essman dreams of one day having a space of his own, where he can fully explore the possibilities of plant-based cooking as a more formal style of dining. For now, though, he sees Irrational Roots as a way to work out his ideas and gauge interest in the style of eating that has been his passion for as long as he can remember.

"This is a great opportunity to experiment because each pop-up is going to be a different type of world cuisine," Essman says. "I'm in the early stages, but I am split between this one step at a time approach and doing what I really see myself doing. In general, I'm a big fan of going with the flow and seeing where life takes me, so we will see how things turn out."

We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at cheryl.baehr@riverfronttimes.com.

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