Sup­per clubs change the way we dine and net­work

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Bazaar - By Sharmila Ra­jah.

En­ter the culi­nary big bang with the in­fil­tra­tion of pop-up and un­der­ground sup­per clubs – the new­est plat­form for as­pir­ing cooks to launch an in­de­pen­dent cook­ing ca­reer. En­tre­pre­neur­ial chefs ex­er­cise fi­nan­cial and cre­ative freestyling – open­ing their pri­vate kitchens and host­ing pop-ups in se­cret lo­ca­tions – to reach out to food en­thu­si­asts while keep­ing their day jobs. Set­ting up shop in bi­cy­cle stores or pop­ping up in es­tab­lished venues, th­ese cooks, both trained and not, are re­cast­ing their am­bi­tions in sur­pris­ingly in­ven­tive ways. Har­ness­ing the power of so­cial me­dia to alert cus­tomers as to their lo­ca­tions and de­vis­ing at­ten­tion-grab­bing menus, th­ese cooks have ef­fec­tively built enough buzz for their name and work. Imag­ine ab­so­lute strangers gath­er­ing around a din­ing ta­ble to sam­ple imag­i­na­tive del­i­ca­cies pre­pared from a metic­u­lously crafted menu over which they have no say. Your din­ner com­pan­ion might be a com­pany CEO; a Food Net­work ob­ses­sive; or a bud­ding artist. The goal of this kind of din­ing is the ex­pe­ri­ence. That’s the al­lure of the pop-up kitchen/un­der­ground sup­per club.

Catch­ing up re­cently with so­ci­ety dar­lings Noreen Ramli and her hus­band Awangku Irawan (aka Tubby, who launched Cantina Moderna, a pop-up that ex­per­i­ments with Latin and Asian influences with a cool client list), BAZAAR dis­cov­ered the ins and outs of the scene at a re­cent pop-up sup­per club in No Black Tie to cel­e­brate its 15th an­niver­sary.


Tell us a bit about your pop-up sup­per club back­ground. Noreen: Pop-ups are fun; you’re able to so­cialise and net­work bet­ter and part­ner up with dif­fer­ent peo­ple. Ours is ex­per­i­men­tal cook­ing, with se­ri­ous Mex­i­can influences. Mex­i­can cui­sine is rel­a­tively sim­i­lar to what our Asian palates are ac­cus­tomed to in terms of the spices and the heat. I ac­tu­ally picked up the love for Latin flavours while I was in Los An­ge­les. How do you de­cide on the menu? Noreen: Our clients trust us com­pletely – we have a good un­der­stand­ing of the theme and oc­ca­sion, and de­vise an ap­pro­pri­ate menu. With pop-up sup­per clubs, un­like cater­ing, we have free and full reign over the menu. We blend dif­fer­ent flavours to­gether, flavours that make sense. We ab­so­lutely love ex­per­i­ment­ing. With No Black Tie’s 15th an­niver­sary, we wanted bold, strong flavours to mark the oc­ca­sion; flavours that cel­e­brate life and mu­sic. What are you in­spired by? Noreen: Sim­ply me­an­der­ing through the wet mar­kets – with its abun­dance of fresh food and in­gre­di­ents – gives me ideas about what I can use and how. Clas­sic chefs, such

as Thomas Keller (of The French Laun­dry in Cal­i­for­nia and Per Se in New York) who seems to do ev­ery­thing right and who ex­udes such per­son­al­ity, is my culi­nary hero. Tubby: Good flavours. I’m driven by my sense of taste and a pas­sion for cook­ing. Any un­der­rated in­gre­di­ents you ac­tu­ally like to work with? Noreen: Root veg­eta­bles such as beetroot and radishes, which we love turn­ing into var­i­ous slaws; whole fish on western menus; and eryn­gii (king trum­pet mush­rooms) that we can sauté and grill ver­sus the very over­rated Por­to­bello. What are some of the high points of a pop-up sup­per club? Tubby: We’ve hooked up with very ta­lented mixol­o­gists, Cock­tail So­lu­tions, and through th­ese types of part­ner­ships, we are able to bring a dif­fer­ent di­men­sion to our din­ners. Our roles tran­scend the con­fines of the kitchen; it gets pretty so­cial,

meet­ing guests at the ta­ble; you in­ter­act, talk them through the menu and the dishes. Who would be your ideal sup­per guest? Noreen: Def­i­nitely An­drew Zim­mer­man. If there’s any­one who’s an ex­pert at weird and ex­per­i­men­tal com­bi­na­tions of flavour, it would be him. Three ad­jec­tives to de­scribe the scene?

Tubby: Pi­quant – that bold flavour and iden­tity that peo­ple seek in a food scene that can some­times be bland and mo­not­o­nous. Tran­sient – sup­per clubs have that “pop-up” com­po­nent of fun and im­per­ma­nence. As­so­cia­tive – sup­per clubs tend to at­tract like-minded peo­ple who end up hav­ing a great night they could not have planned, even.

What is new for Cantina Moderna and what can we ex­pect?

Noreen: We are very ex­cited about our re­cent pop-up col­lab­o­ra­tion with guEST last De­cem­ber, which is the city’s new­est spot for in­vited chefs and fea­tured a night of jazz by my sis­ter Sha­reen Ramli.

Tubby: Prep cater­ing is the next big thing in the scene. We turn up at your home and do all the prep work; the host comes up with the menu and they can even cook the dishes and take credit for it. We pro­vide the ex­tra hand. It’s a great tool for those want­ing to host and en­ter­tain with­out hav­ing to worry about the nitty-gritty. More on face­ and twit­­naModerna

Scal­lop tostada with ha­banero and lime vinai­grette by Cantina Moderna

Awangku Irawan and Noreen Ramli

Tunku Myra Mudzaf­far and Hab­sah Abang Saufi gear up for a night of Latin flavours with Cantina Moderna at No Black Tie’s 15th an­niver­sary

The dy­namic duo hard at work


DISHES King­fish ce­viche with

cit­rus salad; grilled lamb rack with salsa verde; king prawns with

co­conut driz­zle RESER­VA­TIONS

RE­QUIRED Three to ten days; fol­low Cantina Moderna on Face­book and Twit­ter

for pop-up dates. NUM­BER OF SEATS

12 – 40 Peach and pump­kin gaz­pa­cho topped with al­mond crumbs

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