Emma Freud turns her Manhattan kitchen into a restaurant for one night, cooking an eclectic British menu for paying New Yorkers...
In a city where more than half of all meals are cooked in restaurant kitchens, it seems some people are getting tired of institutional dining. There’s an appetite here for new, different culinary experiences, and one of the most popular is the supper club – New Yorkers open their kitchens to the public and become the chefs of their own pop-up restaurants. I wanted to be one of those people. So I turned to Twitter, offering supper for $50 a head. About 30 people answered, which gave me the delicious task of being able to curate the dinner from their replies. What could possibly go wrong?
The day came and my guests arrived. It was strange, but also rather exciting. Each had found their own way to hand over the cash. The pop star put it in a CD of his (excellent) music, the former sex worker tucked it into the front cover of her book – The Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl – which we thought was classy, as indeed was she. I wanted the menu to be entirely made up of British foods unfamiliar to New Yorkers (a chef needs a gimmick).
The starter was a pile of homemade sausage rolls, which I supplemented with items from a deli specialising in food for homesick Brits. ‘Do they only come in cheese flavour?’ asked the professor on tasting her first-ever Quaver. ‘I don’t really understand the Twiglet,’ said her husband. ‘Is this a potato-based snack or jewellery?’ asked the wife of the pop star, holding up a Hula Hoop. ‘Both,’ I explained, ‘that’s the point.’
To ease the realisation that their appetiser was something you can get in Greggs plus a packet of crisps, I gave them a cocktail. I’d forgotten a mixing spoon, so used the nearest thing to hand – a biro. This would have been fine for friends, but in full view of paying guests it was an early fail. The mains were dishes unheard of in America: rare beef Wellington and, for the gluten intolerant (this is Manhattan), I had followed Jamie Oliver’s shepherd’s pie recipe to the letter, hoping it would transcend into something more appropriate for a party. It didn’t.
There are some dishes that always say ‘mum’s cooking’, no matter how well made. But the beef was great, and nobody asked if I’d made the pastry (I hadn’t). ‘It’s time for pudding,’ I announced, and faces fell. Pudding in the US means blancmange, and nobody wants that. I served Eton mess, which caused confusion (‘Did you drop a Pavlova?’). And, in case the party was flagging (it wasn’t; the novelist and I were having a riveting discussion on plastic surgery), there was trifle with as much alcohol as possible.
At that point, the evening began to rock… the pop star’s wife turned out to have once trained monkeys to assist quadriplegics with household tasks. The Clinton volunteer was mad about my Jaffa Cakes. I desperately wanted to talk sex work with the former sex worker, but was too British to go there. The pop star played some of his greatest hits on our piano, and by the time the professor left, Richard (my boyfriend) had tried to sign up for half her classes.
It could never feel like a restaurant: the guests were greeted by our cat on the front step, one of them shared a seat with the rabbit, and mid-course my 12-year-old came down to ask a crucial question about Tottenham Hotspur. What made it remarkable was that, unlike a dinner party, my guests had no shared past and no expectation of any future, which made for a very ‘present’ and easy evening. There was live singing and most people got drunk, but I don’t think anyone enjoyed it as much as me.
When they left, I gave them each a Tunnock’s Teacake for the journey home (I described it as a s’more), and only then did I do the maths. Received: $400. Spent: $400. Profit: $0. Fun had: immense.
Try Emma's very boozy trifle recipe.
Have you been to or hosted a supper club? Was it a hit or an (Eton) mess? Let us know in the comments section below...