Supper clubs change the way we dine and network
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.
BEHIND THE SCENES WITH CANTINA MODERNA
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 facebook.com/cantina.moderna.5 and twitter.com/CantinaModerna
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