Join the club
If you’re reading this, chances are you love food. For some of us, that love can be all-consuming. Dish chats to some local foodies who have embraced variations on the supper club idea and forged new ways to express their passion for all things food.
Early on in their relationship, it was fairly evident to Jane Lyons and Will Bowman they were both obsessed with food – thinking and talking about food, exploring different cuisines and techniques and cooking for people whenever they could. Searching for a way to use that passion, they came up with The Next Meal (so named “because we genuinely really are always thinking about the next meal”) – a concept dedicated to their food adventures.
A website and an Instagram account became the medium for sharing their stories of seeking out luscious produce, experimenting with fermenting, pickling and curing, and creating visually arresting dishes and drinks, with the pair’s deep-seated enthusiasm for food flavouring every delicious post.
What makes their pursuits extra engaging for an audience is their creativity and a knack for sniffing out the new and exciting – skills definitely fostered in each of their upbringings.
Jane inherited a love of cooking from her mother and was gifted cookbooks for birthdays as a child. “I remember studying them so closely,” she says. “I used to make meals for the family from them – one of my specialities was Chicken Chow Mein, which my older brothers called Chicken Chow Crap.” Her siblings have since confessed they actually loved the dish, Jane says. “They just couldn't handle the fact their sevenyear-old sister was making the family dinner.”
Will, too, comes from a family of food lovers, his grandmothers and mother in particular. “I remember when we were young, Mum would
let us taste spices on a plate to see if we could identify them with our eyes closed – at the time it was just a fun game but, looking back, I feel pretty lucky to have had that kind of exposure.” His own foray into cooking was a result of moving away from his family because, he says, “I quickly realised I wasn't going to be eating as well as I did at home unless I learned it myself”.
The pair have garnered quite a following and, through this, collaborative relationships have blossomed. Their first, with Love Food Hate Waste, came through a mutual respect of each other’s ethos. The Next Meal had been contributing recipes to the non-profit organisation, who went on to bestow a grant to the pair for their idea on how to educate people about wasting less household food. “We hired Mondays Wholefoods [in Kingsland, Auckland] for the event and our artist friend Billie Culy [daughter of artist Leanne Culy], helped curate it – she dyed tablecloths with avocado pips and foraged for wild flowers for the tables which was really cool.” There were four courses, each incorporating a number of ingredients commonly thrown in the bin. The event sold out, so it was little surprise they were approached again to put The Next Meal spin on another pop-up.
An Autumn Breakfast was a collaboration with artists Holly Houston (daughter of Little and Friday's Kim Evans) and Jess Hemmings. Held at Welcome Eatery in Auckland – it involved a two-course breakfast eaten out of Holly Houston ceramic bowls, which participants were then able to take home.
It’s all well and good to love cooking and presenting food, but the question is, how does that translate to feeding a crowd?
“The kitchen is a pretty high-pressure environment, but we've been happy to discover we work pretty calmly together,” says Jane. “A few people who have seen us in action have been in disbelief that we're not biting each other's heads off or throwing saucepans at each other when things get chaotic.”
Will agrees their strengths are complementary. “The menu development for the last two events was a lot of fun – the dishes for the Autumn Breakfast were created over a bowl of ramen. Jane definitely has a better eye for plating, which came in handy at the last pop-up when we didn't have a clear idea of how the savoury dish would look, even on the morning of the breakfast.”
They’ve both worked on high-stress jobs, separately and together – magazine food shoots, catering for various functions, which came about through work, friends, followers and family – and both have learned invaluable lessons: Will’s being that “feeding 30 people four courses with just an induction hob is ill-advised.” And Jane’s “that Will is still incredibly kind to me even in intense situations when I am starting to flake”.
The couple will be travelling around Italy and Greece for a few months on a culinary
odyssey as this magazine goes to print, before returning to settle in Christchurch for a year, as Will intends to do a post-grad in winemaking. There are plans for a semiregular pop-up down there, where they will share all their travel learnings with lucky Canterbury folk. Their advice for anyone thinking of heading down a similar path is: “Work out what you believe in and just stick to being true to that. As soon as you put too much pressure on it or do something for the sake of it (or worse, for the sake of Instagram likes or paid posts) the enjoyment will start to drain out. So make sure you keep it fun,” says Will.
If the idea of cooking for strangers or going public with food pursuits is intimidating, there is another option to nurture a love of food.
Kristen de Monchy had been a member of a supper club while living in Holland and, on returning to New Zealand, suggested the idea to some ex-colleagues. The number grew to eight and the group have been meeting, pretty consistently, once a month since May 2010.
“We rarely miss a date,” says Kristen. Each month a different member hosts (partners don't attend) and does the lot – plans the menu, cooks the food, sets the scene, with the guests each supplying a bottle of wine. “It does mean the pressure is on when it’s your turn. But when you do host, it enables you to try things you wouldn’t normally. It encourages you to think outside the square and look for different ingredients and combinations. And then the next seven times it is very much sit back and relax and enjoy the meal,” she says.
The group are all keen cooks, “But not master chefs,” says member Teresa. “It’s just as
“It does mean the pressure is on when it’s your turn. But when you do host, it enables you to try things you wouldn’t normally. It encourages you to think outside the square and look for different ingredients and combinations.” – KRISTEN DE MONCHY
much about the company as it is the food.”
Some of the themes covered in the past have been Balinese, Brazilian, raw, vegetarian, Moroccan, Greek, Fijian, Japanese, German, Southern style and 70s, to name but a few. Largely, the host keeps the menu a surprise until the night, though sometimes hints are given in order to wine match. The host then supplies the recipes to everyone so that favoured dishes can be recreated at home.
“People are always fascinated when they hear about our supper club but the first thing they say is ‘oh, like My Kitchen Rules?’” says member Stephanie. “And I say absolutely not. We would never criticise any cooking – not that we have to – and if anything does ever go wrong or timings get tricky in the kitchen, everyone is always so supportive and jumps in to lend a hand. We’re there to have fun.”
And sometimes things do go wrong – there was a famed “fondue fire” which threatened to end an evening quickly (stamped out, thankfully, by a nearby husband); a burnt cake was salvaged through clever cutting; dumplings that got stuck together were repackaged as a sort of steamed meatball – but nothing has ever obstructed the enjoyment the women take out of the occasion. “It’s okay if it doesn’t work. Everyone knows we are guinea pigs – that just makes it more fun,” says member Jo. “Anything that’s made with love is always appreciated.”
The Christmas supper club, especially, is a highlight with members bringing along a food-related gift. “Our girls are so creative and talented,” says Teresa. Examples of gifts have been homemade printed tea towels, pickles, chutney, vanilla essence, almond cookies, cookie ingredients layered in a bottle, mini Xmas fruit cakes, Florentines, dukkah and chilli oil. “You go home with lots of goodies,” says Stephanie. “The host for Christmas also really pulls out all the stops and it’s an incredible kick-off to the festive season.”
Member Mairi started a food blog and learned about styling and photography, which means the group now have these food memories gorgeously captured to look back on, along with a repertoire of recipes to return to. But what this supper club keeps coming back to is the bond created over the years between them. Teresa sums it up best with, “A community of supportive friends has been the greatest reward”.
THIS PAGE: Jane Lyons and Will Bowman created The Next Meal as a way to expend some of the endless energy they have for creating beautiful food.
THIS PAGE: Jane and Will’s “Autumn Breakfast” menu included (left) a persimmon, tamarillo and black pepper shrub; and (right) savoury polenta with mixed mushrooms, 60°C egg, crispy brussels sprout leaves, a Japanesestyle jus and a dollop of quark.
THIS IMAGE: (From left) Kristen de Monchy, Joanna Beer and Mairi Herbert are three of the eight members of an Auckland supper club that’s been going strong for seven years; (below left) Jo’s calamari dish from a recent supper club.