We tell all
Photography by Tina Sargeant
Nearly a century has come and gone since the Roaring Twenties — the era of Prohibition and secret indulgences, when some of the most influential decisions of modern time were made during private parties in the dining room, not the war room. Today, what was once old is new again with the reintroduction of the modern speakeasy and supper club.
I believe it’s part of our nature to immediately want what was once prohibited. To have what is perceived to be unaccessible. This very notion drew me into my first experience at a speakeasy one night many years ago in New York City. Hearing about a private party with food and drinks that could not be had anywhere else no matter what price, made me want to get an invitation to attend even more so. Part of the allure of private dining clubs and speakeasies are that chefs and mixologists treat their guests as test subjects, seeing how far they can push the limits of the conventional while still providing a stimulating event for all of the senses.
Historically speaking, as recently as sixty years ago the thought of a supper club brought to mind strong social implications — a destination where people got together to share food, drink, and quite possibly a dance or two. The main goal was to really make a night of things by getting away from one’s stressful routine and simply relax away.
The concept evolved throughout the years, ranging from early fondue parties to simplistic fish fries, and moving on to full-blown catered dinners paired with fine wines and artisanal cocktails, the key ingredient always being secrecy.
At present, the supper club is evolving more into a forward-thinking culinary entity for the underground. As diners tire of a normal restaurant encounter, they now are at the helm,
taking it upon themselves to create a revolving premise and location for each event only to be revealed to a select few who are fortunate enough to receive an invite. The menu is shrouded in just as much privacy, often not being revealed until service. The reason for this omission usually stems from the heavy influence farm-to-table dining has within the culture, looking toward the local markets to write out the menus for us. In this way, not even the cook really knows what’s going to be prepared until the day of each dinner, pending what’s fresh and seasonally available.
Those who keep up on the latest inclinations may already be aware of, and quite possibly be participating in, private dinners throughout the Central Florida corridor. This phenomenon has all but bypassed our town. As a community, we can encourage great change to our dining landscape if we show there is significant interest.
Look at your favorite restaurant’s menu next time you visit. Most likely it doesn’t change all that often. That’s because “regulars” get into a comfort zone of ordering certain menu items,
thus causing the proprietors to stick to a staple of options. Believe me, this happens all over the country. It’s safer this way. I will bet you that past the dining room, buried deep in the kitchen, is a forward-thinking cook, aching to get a chance to let his or her creativity fly — creativity which is not satisfied simply by making up the occasional special. Cooks who still have a deep passion for cooking also have a strong desire to create. These instinctively go hand in hand.
As food appreciation grows and becomes completely mainstream, a person like this might not even be in the restaurant industry. To clarify, more and more we are seeing people who are not employed within or by the service industry, yet they have a growing knowledge of food and would love to share their most likely self-taught skills with a larger audience. These kinds of people are causing the resurgence of supper clubs. Do you find yourself watching food-based television on a regular basis, picking up little tricks of the trade every now and then? If so, you might just fit the mold as the next generation of dinner host.
From time to time we have our friends over for an impromptu meal or simply a glass of wine and some good conversation. Most likely the meal consists of dishes we are comfortable making any day of the week with little to no preparation required. What if on certain occasions, we made things more spectacular, grander — something of a night to remember for all invited? Maybe even make a meal that can’t be found on any menu, one that would make any chef downtown jealous that they didn’t think of it first. A new, secret supper club conceptualized in the comfort of your home perhaps?
Not everyone can devote as much time as is needed to produce a large-scale traveling circus of gastronomical proportions. But we sure can try our best with what we’ve got! The following is a guide to the basics of a starting a small secret supper club that you and your friends can enjoy.
SUPPER CLUB SOURCES
furniture / props provided by:
Lisa Malott, Wish Rentals
custom pedestal table provided by:
Matthew Kent, Pinestock
potted plants / accents provided by:
The Green House Garden Store
110 Easton Drive, Lakeland, FL 33803
invitation, menu, and coaster provided by:
Matthew Wengerd, A Fine Press
Special thanks to Crowder Bros. for providing strand lights and their entire stock of plastic flamingos:
Ace Hardware (Crowder Bros.)
2633 S. Florida Ave, Lakeland, FL 33803
Food / Purveyors
These vendors primarily sell their foodstuffs at Lakeland’s Downtown
Farmers Curb Market:
kale, carrots, turnips, radishes, strawberries, beets
farm-fresh eggs, society garlic
Jims Jam (found at Barefoot Creek’s booth)
lemon oil, champagne pear vinegar, honey, Herbs de Provence
Primus Hydroponic Gardens
white asparagus, strawberry onions, mangoes, corn, celery, red peppers
Wook’s beef jerky, hickory beef jerky
Here are some ideas from our Shelter Editor on party design and setting the atmosphere.
Having a dinner party doesn’t have to involve buying expensive cut flowers, polishing the silver, and breaking out your grandma’s candelabra. Think outside the box when it comes to setting the atmosphere.
We chose to set the tone by bringing the party outside, using some of the homeowner’s signature elements as key features of the design. Iconic Florida lawn ornaments, [Don Featherstone] pink flamingos meander through the garden while guests dine at table. Original art hangs on the patio. Antique bottles hold cuttings from the yard rather than cut flowers. Industrial bobbins are used in lieu of fancy candle sticks. We made small terrariums inhabited by sunflower seedlings for the table, continuing our farm-to-table theme. I love to send guests home with a memento of the event. The seedlings will last for weeks as is, or guests can choose to plant them outside and watch them grow.
• Two weeks out: send invitations
• One week out: visit farmers market / local purveyors to gain inspiration for your menu
• One week before party: sketch out your plan for the evening / outline each dish
• Weekend before event: grocery shop/visit farmers market to make final selections for your meal
• Do as much prep as possible in the days before the party, so you have time to relax and enjoy your guests between courses
• Invite guests to participate by bringing cocktails to share
• Day of party: have apps ready when people arrive
1 pound white or green asparagus spears
2 tablespoons butter
10 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream plus 10 tablespoons
1/4 cup chicken stock
10 mint leaves finely chopped, plus extra for garnish
1 pound frozen English peas
1/2 pound crispy bacon, plus 1 tablespoon bacon drippings
1 loaf of white bread, toasted and cut into 1-inch-thick sticks
premade pesto sauce
salt and pepper to taste
10 6-ounce jam jars or ramekins
Bring a large pot of water to boil and add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the butter. Remove the woody bottoms of the asparagus by bending stalks until they snap. Where they snap is the part that is more tough and fibrous. Peel the outer skin for a more tender product. Place the asparagus in boiling water for 3-5 minutes (depending on thickness), then remove and place into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Remove from ice bath and place on paper-towel–lined dish. Keep the pot of water boiling. If desired, place asparagus on a hot grill for 2
minutes, then set aside. (Asparagus can be made up to a day in advance and reserved in refrigerator.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Pour peas into boiling water for 2 minutes, then with a slotted spoon, transfer to ice bath. Drain and put into food processor or blender with cream, chicken stock, mint, and bacon drippings. Add salt to taste. Blend on high for about 2 minutes or until very smooth and bright green.
Pour puree in jars or ramekins dividing into ten equal portions. Crack one egg per serving atop puree, being careful not to break the yolk. Add 1 tablespoon of cream then top with cracked pepper. Place in large baking dishes and fill with hot water until about halfway up jars. Bake until the egg white is just set but the yolks are still runny, about 19-22 minutes. Carefully remove each serving and set on serving dishes. Sprinkle with crumbled bacon and some chopped bacon. Serve with asparagus, toast (use these items to dip into runny yolk), and a spoon with pesto on the side.
For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a 9×9 baking pan with butter, then dust with flour.
In a medium saucepan, place eggs, brown sugar, and butter on Low heat until butter is melted. Remove from heat, add flour, and stir gently by hand until incorporated. Add vanilla and stir until mixed. Add nuts and mix evenly. Pour into prepared pan, then place in oven for 45 minutes. Test with a toothpick in the center. If it comes out clean, it’s ready. Set on cooling rack for at least 30 minutes or cool to the touch.
For the panna cotta:
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
1/2 ounce unflavored gelatin (2 packets)
2 cups buttermilk
In a small saucepan on Medium heat, warm cream and sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape seeds into cream. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Place gelatin in a small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of cold water and stir. It will turn to a thick paste. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Pour hot cream mixture over gelatin and stir until combined. Add buttermilk and stir again. Pour through sieve or strainer and into a 9×9 baking dish lined with plastic wrap. Shake to release any air that may have gotten trapped in liquid. Cover and let set in refrigerator at least 2 hours.
For the strawberries:
1 pint fresh strawberries, diced
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
whole espresso beans
Stir together fresh strawberries, sugar, and lemon in a small bowl. Let stand until the juices from the berries have released, at least 30 minutes. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
To compose dessert, remove panna cotta by inverting dish onto a large cutting board. Cut individual portions of the panna cotta with a knife or small biscuit cutter, and place in the center of small serving dishes. Repeat with cake and place on panna cotta. Spoon macerated strawberries randomly, then add a dollop of strawberry jam on the side. Finish with a light dusting of whole espresso beans over the entirety, using a Microplane to grate.