Supper clubbing: Chefs show off on night out
Recently, Dish had the opportunity to check out the sixth installment of the Cville Supper Club's monthly food and wine extravaganza.
Great, but– um– what's the Cville Supper Club?
That would be the brain(s)child of several Charlottesville restaurateurs who wanted to get together on their nights off to "eat good food, drink good wine, and have a little fun."
In short order, that casual idea turned into a managed monthly event (the supper club meets every 3rd Monday of the month) that involved building a website, networking with other restaurants, planning five-course meals, contacting wine distributors, and creating in the process a charity event. Don't misunderstand: the Supper Club is still in its infancy, but it's an idea that offers local food and wine lovers something unique.
Actually, supper clubs are nothing new. They originally appeared across the Midwest in the 1930s and 1940s. Supper clubbers all showed up at once for a prix-fixe dinner served in a formal setting, usually with some theme. Gradually, the space became a club where everybody danced and drank the night away. It was usually cheaper than dining out alone, and unlike a traditional night out– where a couple or group sits alone– the atmosphere of the supper club encouraged folks to meet their neighbors, to talk about the wine or the food, to turn the night into an event.
"Every month there's a different chef, a different menu, a different wine distributor, and a different charity," says John Siver, one of the Supper Club's founders and a managing partner at Fellini's #9. Siver, along with Fellini's #9 head chef, Adam Beckel, and owner Jaclynn Dunkle, started the club about seven months ago.
"It gives the chefs a chance to show what they can do, to do things they might not be able to do at their restaurants," says the fast-talking Siver. "And it's a great way for people to network," he adds.
On the night Dish attended, Gravity Lounge was the venue, Fellini's Chris Humphry was the chef du nuit, and Acoustic Muse was the charity. In addition, wine guy Luther Fedora of Vinifera Imports was there to select, pour, and talk about the six yes, six! different Italian wines served throughout the meal. An Italian wine specialist, Fedora seemed excited to have a chance to showcase his selections.
"There are not many Italians in Virginia, which is why there's so much bad Italian wine," he told Dish. Fedora served up a 1995 Chianti from Terrene Vineyards (to go along with Humphry's duck breast with sautéed oyster mushrooms and fresh roasted parsnips) that rocked our socks off, as well as a Brachetto semi-sparkling dessert wine that was almost better than the dessert itself.
For $75 a head, SupperClubbers got a six course meal, a generous offering of fine wines, a kind of mini food and wine seminar, plenty of time to chat with neighbors, a little live music, and the knowledge that they were contributing to a worthy cause.
"I want this thing to have a mind of its own," says Beckel. A graduate of the New England Culinary School in Vermont, which promotes a more hands-on method of instruction, Beckel saw the Supper Club as a way to share ideas. "It allows me to learn from other people," he says, "and more importantly, to play with food and have a good time."
Indeed, to be served by chefs, servers, and wine experts who are actually having a good time is what makes the Cville Supper Club unique. Instead, of cranking out 300 covers on a busy Saturday night, everyone had time to focus on the quality of one sitting.
Still, getting things right is a work in progress. "At the last Supper Cub they served a little too much wine," one Clubber told Dish. "Needless to say, it was hard to focus on the food."
Another attendee mentioned the portions had also been too large. According to Siver, maintaining that quality depends on getting the portions right, perfecting the timing, and limiting the event to no more than 50 people.
"I want this thing to be self-sufficient," says Beckel, "something that will just kind of happen by itself every month. This was by far the smoothest of our Supper Clubs. That's because everybody chipped in and did their part."
Cville Supper Club founders (from left) Adam Beckel, chef Chris Humphry, Jaclynn Dunkle, John Siver, and Luther Fedora
PHOTO BY DAVE MCNAIR