THE BUSI­NESS of DIN­NER

Dish - - The Business Of Dinner - Story — NIKKI BIR­RELL / Recipes – LAURA JACK­SON AND ALICE LEVINE Pho­tog­ra­phy — KRISTIN PERERS

LThe un­der­ground res­tau­rant – aka sup­per club – scene in the UK is thriv­ing. Flick through Round to Ours, the cook­book com­pi­la­tion of pop­u­lar Lon­don sup­per club­bers Jack­son & Levine, and you’re al­most guar­an­teed to start men­tally plan­ning a killer din­ner party. aura Jack­son and Alice Levine sure know how to set the mood and fill a ta­ble – and it’s pretty in­spir­ing. The Lon­don­ers met at a jum­ble sale, bond­ing over a vat of chilli. At the time they were still at the start of broad­cast ca­reers so had plenty of time and not a lot of money. Host­ing was a mu­tual pas­sion – “lay­ing out a feast and cre­at­ing that warm feel­ing that comes from full stom­achs and noisy chat” – so a few months af­ter they met, they started their paid sup­per club.

It’s since had some pretty big en­dorse­ments in the UK with The Ob­server Mag­a­zine calling it, “The hottest sup­per club of the year”. On the back of that suc­cess, the home cooks have col­lated some of their menus into their first cook­book, Round to Ours – 24 oc­ca­sions, from brunch to lunch to din­ner. They’ve also in­cluded ad­vice on ta­ble set­tings, cre­at­ing the right mood with light­ing and mu­sic and se­cret weapons in the pantry.

Here, we chat to the pair about their voy­age into the land of sup­per clubs.

When did your in­ter­est in food be­gin? ALICE: My mum is an amaz­ing home cook - for as long as I can re­mem­ber she has made in­cred­i­ble fam­ily meals and all my friends al­ways com­ment on her dishes. She now has a big al­lot­ment so when I go home we have lovely fresh pro­duce too. I learned a lot from her. LAURA: I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in food but I think a turn­ing point was when I started work­ing for the cater­ing com­pany the Ad­mirable Crich­ton – I worked on some won­der­ful events from a pri­vate din­ner at the King of Kuwait’s house, to a ban­quet of 200 peo­ple at the V&A mu­seum.

Are you self-taught cooks? L: Yes we are home cooks, def­i­nitely not chefs. We are still learn­ing so much from cook­ing for the sup­per clubs. We prac­tice a lot, and don’t al­ways get it right, but I think that’s what a lot of peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence when they are cook­ing for friends and fam­ily – so hope­fully we’re all in it to­gether. At the end of the day, peo­ple come round to see you, they are not there as res­tau­rant crit­ics.

For the novice, how would you de­scribe what a sup­per club in­volves? A: It in­volves open­ing your house as a res­tau­rant for the evening – es­sen­tially cook­ing din­ner for a bunch of strangers (and charg­ing them for it!). So that en­tails transforming the space, plan­ning the menu, cook­ing, choos­ing the playlist, wash­ing up. It’s all in your hands.

Had you heard of sup­per clubs when you started yours? L: I had been to Ms Mar­mitelover [Ker­stin Rodgers aka Ms­mar­mitelover is cred­ited with start­ing the sup­per club/pop up/un­der­ground res­tau­rant move­ment in the UK in 2009.] A: And I had been to the Ginger­line [Ginger­line spe­cialises in “cre­at­ing nights of mystery and de­li­cious din­ing along the East Lon­don Line”.] L: We didn’t com­pletely know what the def­i­ni­tion was so we just made up our own.

What was the main im­pe­tus to start one? A: We wanted to try one as a chal­lenge more than any­thing. We both loved cook­ing and wanted to see if we could do it. L: We wanted to write about food, too, and knew we needed to show we were pas­sion­ate and keen and had some skills. It seemed like a good show­case for what we could do.

How would you de­scribe your sup­per club? A: Very in­for­mal. We try to pitch it some­where be­tween a din­ner party with friends and your lo­cal res­tau­rant that you go back to time and time again be­cause they know your names and you al­ways have a good time. L: Our food is al­ways in­flu­enced by the sea­son, and we call them feasts be­cause we want them to be plen­ti­ful. It’s as much about hav­ing a great night as it is about the food be­ing per­fect. Peo­ple al­ways meet new friends at our din­ners, which is a bril­liant feel­ing – so if we burnt the dessert, it’s not the end of the world.

If you had to share one piece of ad­vice with some­one who is think­ing of start­ing up a sup­per­club, what would it be? A: We are a part­ner­ship and do ev­ery­thing our­selves but we rope my brother and Laura’s sis­ter in for serv­ing du­ties some­times. I think hav­ing friends on hand as sup­port is re­ally help­ful, es­pe­cially for the first one un­til you

“At the end of the day, peo­ple come round to see you, they are not there as res­tau­rant crit­ics.” – LAURA JACK­SON

find your feet. You could get them to come early and they then get to eat with ev­ery­one, so they have a nice meal as a thank you.

When think­ing about the el­e­ments for a get­to­gether, what comes first? A: There are a few sim­ple el­e­ments to mak­ing a din­ner party or gath­er­ing go with a bang. Great com­pany, an invit­ing space, bril­liant food, fun mu­sic and lots of drink (this can gen­er­ally start off good, and get pro­gres­sively worse in qual­ity as the party stretches on into the wee hours). We think of them in equal mea­sure – the food is, of course, very im­por­tant, but if you are sit­ting un­der a 200w bulb and the room is freez­ing, you won’t have a good time. Like­wise, if some­one has come on their own and you haven’t made sure there is some­one in­ter­est­ing for them to sit next to, the night could bomb. It’s about the alchemy of all of those el­e­ments.

What’s your most fail-safe dish? L: A roast chicken is such an easy, sim­ple cen­tre­piece of a dish. You can ei­ther serve it whole and let peo­ple carve for them­selves or shred into a salad. At the mo­ment we love to cook it with gar­lic and lemon and serve with a salsa verde and jersey roy­als. Com­pletely stress free and just so de­li­cious. Pop the skin back in at the end on a high heat with ex­tra salt to make chicken crack­ling.

What dish have you re­ceived the best feed­back about? A: Some­one told us the other day they made our salted caramel brown­ies with their 8-yearold and he said they were the best ever – kids know choco­late, so I’m tak­ing that as the great­est ac­co­lade.

Have you had any theme nights? L: I am al­ler­gic to themes and I hate fancy dress so I am a bit of a killjoy on that front. A: We did do a Scan­di­na­vian feast once and ev­ery­one very much en­joyed the help your­self vodka dis­penser and brunost (caramel cheese) We also held a sup­per club in the mid­dle of Vic­to­ria Park at night and dec­o­rated the space like A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream – so you didn’t know what was in­side and what was out­side. That one slipped passed the Laura theme ban.

Your ul­ti­mate sup­per club guest list? L: David At­ten­bor­ough, Clau­dia Win­kle­man, David Hock­ney, Rhi­anna, Vic­to­ria Beck­ham, and Alice, of course!

THIS PAGE: Round to Ours is filled with tips on ev­ery­thing from ta­ble set­tings, to mood light­ing and what mu­sic to play to host a truly suc­cess­ful oc­ca­sion.

Bavette, Radic­chio and An­chovies Ap­ple Thin with Crème Fraîche

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