I believe there are few better places to relax, socialize, and have a great time than around a delicious meal. For this reason, and because cooking for friends and family is a favourite activity of mine, I’m always looking for an excuse to host a dinner party (I’ll admit that my classmates at culinary school gave me the nickname “Martha Stewart”). As a regular “hostess”, I’d been intrigued by the idea of forming a Supper Club with a group of friends for quite some time.
Think of a Supper Club as a way to get a restaurant-style meal in your own home, at a fraction of the cost. Sounds great, right? I thought so, so my boyfriend and I launched ourselves into the fanciest dinner party we’ve ever hosted. We had just hung our first picture on the wall, after living in our place for 18 months, so we figured we were ready to step up our hosting game.
Supper Club dinners have many wonderful benefits, including a laid-back, more intimate dining experience than in a restaurant, the ability to enjoy beverages of your choice at a fraction of the price of eating out, and (most wonderful) spreading the cost of the dinner amongst the guests. It’s not all fun and games, though; they do require a lot of work from the host(ess). Just how much work depends on how ambitious you are with your menu, of course, but be prepared to spend some time and effort deciding on the menu, shopping for ingredients, making a trip to the liquor store, cleaning your apartment, making the table look nice, prepping the dinner, and hosting your amazing friends. Oh yes, and cleaning up!
One Supper Club dinner does not an expert make; however, I can share what I thought contributed to a successful soiree, and how to simplify your hosting duties so that you can enjoy your dinner party with those lucky friends of yours!
Pinterest in Real Life
While food and drink should be the stars of the night, like any other dinner party, they need a well-designed stage upon which to be presented (awesome theatre analogy). We were particularly proud of our table setting and decorations, because, as decorating-impaired individuals (we sat on lawn chairs for the first 3 months we were in our apartment) we were able to make our place look surprisingly good, for surprisingly little money. We decided to DIY it, and use found (and free) objects from the great outdoors (the park beside our building). We sort of made a virtue out of a necessity by foraging for leaves and chestnuts (sorry, squirrels), and actually using beautiful and affordable fresh produce to decorate our table. We liked the rustic, fall-themed look in the end, and even if we hadn’t, at least we didn’t waste any money!
Guests at Our Own Party
Initially, I had wanted to do a multi-course, plated menu. Then I realized how much more work it would be, and that I’d probably spend most of the dinner hidden away from everyone in the kitchen. Also, there were a few people with dietary restrictions, so having to make modifications “à la carte” would definitely complicate things. For these reasons, I decided to go the “family-style” service route (put everything on the table, and let people dig in). It was more informal, but after all was said and done, I enjoyed that communal way of eating more than restaurant-style, plated courses. And it was more appropriate for the setting.
It was easy to accommodate our friends with dietary restrictions by making quick and simple recipe alterations, and providing options for everyone. One guest was lactose-intolerant, so for some menu items, like the kale salad and roasted butternut squash, I reserved a few portions to which I didn’t add cheese. For the roasted pears, I served fresh ricotta on the side as an optional add-on. And I tried to provide a lot of items that were appropriate for our guest who was on a carb-restricted diet, like the spiced nuts, tapenade, vegetable dishes, slow-roasted lamb, and (most importantly) the dessert. This way, everyone had a good experience, and left with a full belly.
Seasonality for Success
Honestly, what I think contributed the most to our dinner’s success was the menu’s focus on local and seasonal produce. It takes a lot of pressure off the cook to prepare a delicious dinner when the products you start with are delicious. Keep your preparation simple by highlighting the inherent characteristics of your ingredients, and you’ll be golden.
This doesn’t really have anything to do with using seasonal ingredients, but it doesn’t hurt if your friend brings his espresso machine in a big suitcase and serves expertly-made coffees after the meal. Thanks for that, by the way!
I was slightly ambitious in developing and executing this menu (making the bread the day-of admittedly added some extra stress), but even a pared-down version would make for a fantastic meal. Also, consider buying items like the bread, tapenade, and even a dessert from a good bakery to make for more manageable prep (it’s not cheating if you don’t tell).
supper club menu
rosemary and chili mixed nuts
house-made rye sourdough, olive tapenade, fresh ricotta
mixed kale salad with pecorino and walnuts
sautéed sweet corn with heirloom tomatoes
butternut squash gratin with pancetta, heirloom garlic and parmesan – recipe here
Tuscan-style white beans with heirloom garlic and sage
Forsyth Farm slow-roasted shoulder of lamb
roasted Ontario bosc pears with cardamom, pistachios and fresh ricotta