A few weeks ago I got a call from a friendly sounding Australian food trader based in East Dulwich. Yianni had passed on my number because Cooper was keen to take his gourmet hot dog operation to the next level and wanted in on eat.st As soon as he started telling me about his ‘Slum dogs’ and ‘Cactus dogs’ I knew I had to get myself down North Cross Road and get my chops round one of them dogs.
This is what is so thrilling about being involved in eat.st – it’s in being told about all these new ideas that have started or are about to take off. People who have just returned from travels afar and want to bring something new to the party. So far the posh hot dog offerings have been fairly scarce though. (Big Apple Hot Dogs – if you’re reading this I have you on my list to come and see!). I had my first gourmet hot dog at the San Francisco Street Food Festival from 4505 Meats. It came with kimchi and chicharrones and had me all up in my eye-rolls. Cooper promised me a similar level of wiener-shaped titilation…
After a quick scan of the traders fringing the road yesterday (including a nice looking banh mi Ape called Viet-Van), I headed to the end of the line and discovered Cooper beneath a canopy of camouflage and kitsch. Rocking a shirt that would’ve made Lash LaRue weep and surrounded by illuminated cacti and Cholula hot sauce bottles, Cooper made me smile the minute I laid eyes on his set-up.
People often ask me what our criteria for bringing people into the eat.st fold are. Of course it is about the food on offer, the business ethos, community mindedness and about pushing the limits of what’s out there already, but there is a magical element which you either have or you don’t – and this is about transforming the space around you into something richer and more fun. The Dogfather has that and it is evident in the little touches, the general look and feel of the stall and just in the way Cooper is.
I called him ahead of arriving and he reassured me he’d ‘save me a table’. Sweet, when I arrived it was just me and a CCTV expert called Kevin (if I didn’t know much about CCTV before, I sure as hell do now), so I sat myself down at the ‘counter’ and ordered my Dog. Amidst the slightly unrelenting security stats bombarding me from matey to my right I got a full run-through of the menu from Cooper. It all sounded so generous and well thought out, with homemade red pepper sauce for one Dog, hot cheese for another. There were jars of pickles and chillis, pots of different mayos and a whole array of stuff for the ‘Slum Dog’ from the local Indian. Clearly, this was a guy who had put a lot of effort and imagination into his offering. I just hoped to God it tasted good too.
I went for the ‘Snoop Dog’ – a Cali riff on the hot dog theme: BBQ sauce, streaky bacon, creamed corn mayo, green onions, grilled onions and a cheddar slice, atop, around and within one of these top-end wieners, the source of which remains Schtumsville.
There it is, a dog of delight, and replete with its own identity so that loving it is made all the more easy. (Like all those stacked trading floors given friendly names like Shard, Cheese-Grater and Walkie-Talkie but without the public deception). I needed several napkins to deal with mine. Not as messy as a Luardos burrito and certainly helped by being sat at a table, but this thing was bursting with meaty company inside that warm toasted bun.
I dug my Dog and I dug Cooper and I’m delighted that there’s a new cat on the scene who comes with personality and swag as well as a great menu.
We want the Dogfather along with us over the summer but keep abreast of his movements on Twitter @Dogfatherdiner in the mean time.
(p.s – For a more in-depth description of Cooper’s sourcing and ingredients go to the ever brilliant Helen at her Food Stories blog).