I am a huge fan of all things Thomas Keller, the chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and owner of famed restaurant The French Laundry in Napa Valley. It is pretty fair to say that from the moment I first saw him on TV, I was captivated by his serenity and passion for sourcing ingredients.
When I first heard back in January that he would be coming to London to do a pop-up at Harrods, I was thrilled. I was also in full-time employment at the time and willing to pay any amount of money to attend his pop-up. But since I was made redundant in June, the belt-tightening reality hit home and I've been forced to be a little less extravagant in the spending department than before.
On Monday morning, I woke up to the news on Twitter that Keller had announced dates for his French Laundry pop-up at Harrods with the rather hefty price tag of £250 per person. I was devastated; I knew this meant I just couldn’t afford to go, even if I could manage to get a reservation.
I quickly realised that many people on Twitter were expressing the same thoughts on the price. I joked to someone that we should do a supper club to counter the extravagant price tag - and so the French Launderette supper club was born.
I must point out that the whole concept is a tongue-in-cheek nod to Thomas Keller’s pop-up. At first I decided to try and feed people for just 1% of the cost of Keller’s event at £2.50 per person. Soon people were tweeting me, messaging and emailing me to offer their help, ingredients and support.
So I thought it best to use all this help and create the best menu I possibly could for the event and ask people to make additional donations on the night to support Action Against Hunger.
The rest, as they say, is history. The story took off and within less than 48 hour, it went viral.
[See also: Inside the world of secret supper clubs]
I am very fortunate that I have a lot of followers that work in food and restaurant industry circles and I secured a venue within a couple of hours of making the decision to go ahead with the supper club.
The Chancery restaurant in London offered me their space for free and we are now planning a series of different supper clubs together after this event.
It just goes to show how effective social media, especially Twitter, is as a tool for business. You put one request out and if enough people re-tweet it, you can reach thousands of people in a matter of seconds. Could you achieve that kind of reach using any other tool? It’s doubtful.
Things to remember when setting up your own supper club
Setting up a supper club is a new thing for me but it has been on the cards for a while. People on Twitter have been asking me to do something for a couple of months now. The most important thing is to realise that hosting a supper club is not about making profit; in fact I’m reliably told by other supper club hosts that you do not make money at all. It is about sharing something you love with others and having a fun time in the process.
I would just make sure that you use the best ingredients possible with the budget you have. Some of the more famous supper clubs have shocking menus; one actually served Greek salad as a starter. I would not pay £30-50 per person to eat Greek salad, which I can make perfectly well myself. Be creative, be passionate and be true to your cooking style.
Supper clubs are not about Michelin-star quality food and I prefer to cook from the heart and serve people the food that I myself love to eat.
What you need to set up your own supper club
I have worked in restaurants and in the hospitality industry for over 15 years which has blessed me with contacts in hotels, restaurants, and the food and drink supply chain as well as put me in contact with great staff. I have done private catering for over 10 years and have been teaching cookery classes for nearly two years, but that's not say you can't do it yourself.
Here are some key elements that you will need to create a successful supper club;
- Suppliers to provide you with ingredients for each of your events
- Reliable staff (whether friends or hired wait staff) who will be professional and do a good job for you at the event
- A venue, should you not have the space to do it in your own home
- Crockery, kitchen equipment and enough serving ware to cater for your guests
- A good drinks / wine supplier
- A database of accumulated names of people to invite to future events
- A fortnightly/month mailer and website/blog page to keep people informed about your events
- Twitter and Facebook accounts are invaluable tools to promote your event
- Know your audience! Don’t try and serve outrageously adventurous dishes to people who may not be the right crowd to appreciate them.
- The ability to be organised and plan and prepare menus and food in advance to ensure your event runs smoothly
- Plenty of recipes and creative ideas to keep diners coming your way
- A sense of humour! Because after all, cooking for large groups is not easy and supper clubs are not blessed with having a fleet of chefs on hand
Why so many people setting up supper clubs
For every restaurant that is popping up in the country, a supper club is never that far behind.
Perhaps it is a sign of our economic crisis that people just can’t afford to eat out in the best restaurants anymore.
Supper clubs are not only more affordable but for most, offer something a bit different and in some cases, something rather adventurous. The chance to meet new people in an unstuffy environment appeals to many and it is perfectly acceptable to go on your own and feel comfortable - whereas dining alone in a restaurant can make some feel a bit awkward.
Ultimately supper clubs are gathering momentum at an incredible pace and becoming more and more mainstream. The most successful supper clubs are those who continue to create inspiring dishes that keep people wanting more ,and more importantly create the right ambiance and vibe by being great hosts and putting diners at ease.
This is the best recipe for supper club success.
Would you set up your own supper club? What famous restaurant would you like to set up in your own kitchen?
Booking lines for The French Launderette supper club open at 10am on the 1st September
Tel: 020 7854 9369 or E-mail: FrenchLaunderette@hotmail.co.uk
Twitter: @SabrinaGhayour Blog: http://sabrinaspassions.blogspot.com
10 things a waiter will never tell you
8 ways a restaurant menu influences what you order
The most high tech restaurants around the world