My first supper club experience occurred during the halcyon days of my marriage. My husband and I and three other couples — all in our early 30s — met once a month in each other’s homes for dinner.
As I recall, the hosts designed the meal and gave out recipes so that each couple could prepare a course and bring it “to the table.”
Years later, in Raleigh, North Carolina, four fellow graduate students and I decided to form a supper-slash-book-club. Since we were looking for any reason to avoid working on our dissertations, it turned out to be quite successful. Each woman hosting the gathering would select a book and then provide a “themed” dinner that went along with the reading.
The most popular supper event was at Ginger’s home. The book, “Dead Man Walking,” was the true story of a man on Louisiana’s death row and the nun who visited him until his execution. Admittedly, it was a depressing book; however, these were highly stressful times for all of us, as we struggled through graduate school, worked full time and took care of families. Tough lives warranted tough reads. That said, what made the evening’s discussion so inviting and memorable was the Cajun dinner Ginger served.
It was early summer. As we arrived, our hostess guided us to her screened back porch. We sat around a table covered in newspaper onto which she spread out her shrimp boil: shell-on shrimp, corn on the cob, new potatoes. As the ceiling fan revolved overhead, we sipped sweet tea, peeled shrimp and debated late into the night about capital punishment and other issues the book raised. It was a perfect evening.
Fast forward 15 years. . . . I once again had a “supper club” experience. Four couples decided to celebrate Father’s Day at my cabin on Farmer Lake where I offer culinary classes. Just as with my Raleigh supper club, there was a theme: A New Orleans Father’s Day. The mimosas and Bloody Marys flowed. After receiving their Mardi Gras beads (no flashing necessary), we cranked up the Cajun music and began our prep work.
Looking at the menu, it was obvious that guests had dined at my restaurant — The Yancey House — crab cakes with cajun aioli, grilled romaine with cornbread croutons, shrimp and grits, and bread pudding with Jack Daniel sauce.
Laughter and lively conversation filled the room. Out on the deck, the guys took over the grill, charring the romaine, caramelizing the red onions, grilling the corn, searing the tomatoes. The smell of pecan chips wafted through the air each time they raised the lid.
After dining al fresco, we sat and talked as a light breeze blew in from the lake. It was one of those perfect moments.
At times, I fear the supper club, that small intimate gathering, will be lost to bar hopping and gatherings at breweries. Who has time to sit down with friends in the comfort of one’s home and simply talk and eat for several hours?
Consider making time. You might even start your own supper club, perhaps one that meets quarterly. If you like, your club could have a theme. Perhaps you will only cook local meats and produce. You might have a wine tasting and invite a sommelier to help you pair wine with your dishes. You might begin with a cookout in which you grill the meat and everyone brings a side dish. You might even open up your kitchen and let everyone cook. Make it an evening to remember.
Retired from North Carolina State University to open the Yancey House Restaurant in Yanceyville, North Carolina, Willis, is a two-time winner of the NC Best Dish competition. She now teaches culinary classes at her cabin on Farmer Lake and at a Southern Season in Chapel Hill. For more information about classes or to sign up for the newsletter, visit terrapincovefarm.com.