An Appetite for Friendship
What is it about social dining clubs that appeals to the gourmand in us? lydia lim explores three supper clubs in singapore that feed your hungry souls.
Cooking and entertaining can get slightly narcissistic when it points only to the person making the food. Perhaps therein lies the charm of the supper club—it does not focus solely on the cook, nor market the event around him.
A supper club is an event where people— usually strangers—come together to eat and socialise. Like a first date, there's a certain level of unpredictability and excitement that comes with opening up to someone you've just met. The host shares his or her story, but every single diner is given a chance to introduce himself and share his tales. It's an occasion that aims to bring back the communal spirit of dining, and get guests to discuss the food's provenance and heritage, beyond just the next cool culinary technique.
Borrowing similar values from their Western counterparts, some social dining clubs have emerged in Singapore over the past two years. The hosts usually hold a day job, and aren't chefs or restaurateurs armed with an agenda to promote their establishments' businesses
An anthropologist by education and ex-public relations professional, Nithiya N. is the organiser of private dining club Brunch Bandits and a supper club cook by choice. She plans the menu and sources the ingredients herself. "I have a passion for migrant cultures and food. Food is a tool for me to convey stories, heritage, histories and memory," she shares. Last month, I joined her first ever masterclass at a pop-up event. Market of Experiences, in an industrial warehouse on Lorong Ampas.
The venue had no commercial kitchen or high end appliances, which meant she had to cart along her ovens and mixers.
Still, the makeshift setup did not stop her 15 guests—a motley crew of individuals from the creative and banking industries, and previous supper club attendees—from rolling up their sleeves to work on Nithiya's recipes. I joined one of the groups of four, as she demonstrated and shared the stories behind each dish.
Friendships were forged as hands kneaded the dough for the first dish, Black Olive Extra Virgin Olive Oil Focaccia. We also rustled up Iranian dishes like Chipotle sraeli Hummus and Goan Seafood Pie with Truffle Mashed Potatoes. By the time the freshly baked and piping hot focaccia came back to the table, the hungry guests tucked in and mopped up the hummus and pesto. It seemed bread tastes better when it is a joint labour contributed by newfound friends.
While the masterclass was not Brunch Bandits' modus operandi, it captured the spirit of the club: the exploration of culture through food and the interaction between strangers. Spurred by the popularity of her cooking class, Nithiya is considering making the masterclass a permanent feature.
DINNER AT 335
By day, Norman Teh, 30, crunches numbers as a product manager of a wealth intelligence firm. By night, he sometimes welcomes strangers to cook and dine with him in his apartment home in Serangoon.
Teh, along with his friend Bryan Lim, 25, a wedding planner at his own company Beautiful Gatherings, are the brains behind Dinner at 335, a social dining club that marries their love for food, culture and storytelling with their expertise in event curation.
Teh usually whips up to four dishes that consist of an entree, two mains and a dessert. Recipes are plastered on the walls for the guests' reference, and, with minimal guidance from the hosts, the guests break the ice by getting their hands dirty in the kitchen. "I don't like the thought of serving someone at a supper club—I like the idea of doing some labour when you want to eat, such as deconstructing raw meat and vegetables into something magical and tasty," says Teh. After cooking, the crowd will dine together at a long table and continue their conversation into the night.
The dinners have evolved over the course of 21 sessions. In the past, they were largely themed according to cuisine, such as Mexican, Japanese, Burgers and Milkshakes or Desserts in Pyjamas. The events now have a stronger element of collaboration, crafted to let local food purveyors share their recipes
and philosophies or allow artists to interact with food. Teh is excited by the multi-faceted locals who can tell the stories behind their brand or food. "It humanises the experience of cooking," he elaborates. For instance, they did a granola-making workshop with Eastern Granola, and a dinner with florists With Every, where they transformed the space into a messy affair of flowers, food and wine. Another interesting collaboration was between Philipp Solay, an interactive designer, and Marc Nair, a poet. Solay took over the kitchen with a liquid nitrogen tank and his vegan-themed menu, while Nair composed poems with the diners.
In the future, Teh hopes to have someone from the older generation share recipes for traditional dishes like beef rendang.
"People are willing to spend an evening of not just eating but cooking with strangers, and that equates to building understanding [between us]," says Teh. It is this intimate act of cooking in a casual home setting with strangers who share a love of food that is the appeal of Dinner at 335. Teh feels that at the end of the meal, there's a self-realisation that the diners made the food themselves and can now go home and do it again with other friends.
A picnic mat and a few tealight candles were all it took for Pamelia Chia and Woo Wen Xuan, both 24 to set up their 12th instalment of their dining club Flygge, on the wooden floating platform at MacRitchie Reservoir. They wanted a neutral, outdoor setting where people would feel most comfortable in. Chia, a NUS Food Science & Technology graduate and the current pastry chef of Lollapalooza, arranged the food in a communal-style on the mat.
Flygge, pronounced 'hue-gah', is a Danish word which translates to having a sense of cosiness, and being around loved ones and good food. Inspired by a chai tea stand in Sydney, the duo started this purely to cook and entertain in the same spirit, but it is now a supper club centered on promoting meaningful conversations. Once a month,
Chia cooks for 12 guests and hosts them together with Woo, an urban farming specialist working for Greenology.
The dinner at MacRitchie focused on the topic of sustainability: Chia created a menu
using locally sourced ingredients, featuring dishes like Grilled Eggplant with Chili Jam and Garden Herbs, Beef Cheek Bourguignon, Barley Feta Tabouleh, and Kaffir Lime Cake Guests that attended were interested in the future of local food provenance, and were not shy of trading their opinions.
"Food decisions are complex nowadays with ramifications beyond the eater. We hoped to change mindsets by educating and discussing our choices," says Chia. "People can connect over a dinner, even though they were strangers at the beginning."
While sustainability is something close to their hearts, they have also crafted dinners around other topics like simplicity or love. The menu—which changes according to the theme, and is kept down-to-earth and sometimes featuring herbs and vegetables from Woo's garden—showcases Chia's understanding of food and flavours. WD