Feeling like seafood soup, he searched for the right recipe that he knew he could adapt. He had to choose between visiting the Mediterranean or his Efik countrymen for the taste of the sea he craved. The Mediterranean won as he wasn’t in the mood for palm oil and besides, parsley and lemons were in the fridge. In no time at all, he was sat before the well pleasing aroma of fish, prawns and tomatoes in a spicy and lemony broth delighting his senses. He remembered to take and post a picture of his creation on social media and soon consigned the experience to memory.

Gathered together on the rooftop terrace of a relatively new spot, he and friends were conversing when one remembered seeing the seafood soup bowl on his social media timeline. Asked who made it, he admitted to the deed gleefully not for a second imagining the “come and cook for us” refrain that ensued. With a mixture of pride and trepidation, he said yes not understanding how he could possibly scale up his cookery skills for eight or so people. Then salvation came and God smiled on him when one of the chaps present who is a proper chef decided to join him and insisted on doing the cooking while he would be ‘front-of-house’ and keep guests watered and entertained. And so a supper club was born. It started from the first two events which were just a few people enjoying free three course meals and grew to twenty and thirty people fed at four/five course paid for events all to the background of good music.

When an appreciation for good food meets the right chef and a private location with the right ambience, a supper club can be born. Historically, a supper club was a formal dining establishment that functioned as a social club. The term may describe different establishments depending on the region, but in general, supper clubs tend to present themselves as having a high-class image, even if the price is affordable to all. The use of the name has however changed to refer to something less public in location and more private and can include ‘underground restaurants’ such as home bistros, guerrilla diners, secret restaurants, paladares, puertas cerradas, pop-up restaurants, guestaurants, speakeasies, and anti-restaurants

In the United States, a supper club is a dining establishment generally found in the Upper Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Iowa, typically located on the edge of town in rural areas. Supper clubs generally feature simple menus with somewhat limited offerings featuring “American” cuisine. Menus include dishes such as prime rib, steaks, chicken, and fish. An all-you-can-eat Friday night fish fry is particularly common at Wisconsin supper clubs.

In the United Kingdom the supper club is enjoying a revival with slightly different meaning — generally a small underground club, often with roving premises which are only revealed to the guests when they buy a ticket, where guests eat from a restricted or set menu. In the UK ‘Underground Restaurants’ and ‘Supper Clubs’ have started to blossom, with reviews in leading newspapers such as The Times and The Guardian. They range across the UK but are mainly concentrated in London. These are advertised by word of mouth and on social media networks.

In Latin America, a supper club is typically an underground restaurant known as either a paladar or a restaurante de puertas cerradas (locked door restaurant). Although technically illegal, this type of restaurant is built into the culture, often with higher standards than many licensed establishments.

The attraction of the underground restaurant for the guest is the ability to sample new food at low prices (or not) outside the traditional restaurant experience. For the host, benefits are making some money and experimenting with cooking without having to invest in a restaurant proper. As one host said, “It’s literally like playing restaurant… You can create the event, and then it’s over.”

If you are playing restaurant anytime soon, send me an invite please…

Book Review – Tale In A Pie by Tiyan Alile

Tiyan Alile is the founder and promoter of Culinary Academy and the Executive Chef of Tarragon, a fine dining restaurant and wine club. This is her first book out of many she hopes to bring from her restless and adventurous mind. It is into that mind that you step when you open the pages of this very entertaining non-book which also happens to be a cookery book. A non-book at it was written as a collection of musings aligned with incidental recipes. Those musings having come from her collection of postings on a blog she used to maintain. A clear case of serendipity when your thoughts and sometimes recorded experiences align with some of your recipes as a chef. It must be said that it is not a book for a young chef due to the explicitness of some of her musings, but the wittiness of some of her recollections married with the appropriate recipes makes the book a very enjoyable read indeed. The collection of thoughts on relationships, navigating through life’s everyday challenges, lessons learned, poetry and food give you a ringside seat in seeing how Chef Tiyan’s mind works. Tale In A Pie will either serve you well on your coffee table as you return to giggle at some of the prose or will send you to the kitchen to upgrade your cooking game as you try the easy-to-follow recipes. And yes, there is a recipe for an actual pie too.