It's possible, it the biggest and most anonymous city in America for dinner with a group of strangers to feel completely familiar and relaxed. The Ted and Amy Supper Club was my second foray into the underground supper club scene -- amateur chefs hosting under the radar dinner parties in someone's apartment, where they charge a relatively low flat fee for several courses and free flowing wine. (Check out my first experience at One Big Table here.) These supper clubs seem to me to be the social dining experience of both the now and the future. I think everyone realizes the cultural winds are shifting -- formal, fancy, trendy, showy and gimmicky gastronomy is out. Home cooking, value, connection to your food and the people around you are decidedly, wholeheartedly in.
When I walked into Kara Masi's Clinton Hill, Brooklyn apartment, I felt like it could easily be the home of someone I knew. Kara exuded the friendly vibe of someone you would have met her at your college dorm. She has been the stalwart of this supper club for about two years, along with a rotating cast of friends and boyfriends who've assisted her along the way. (In case you were wondering, the supper club is quirkily named in honor of Ted Allen and Amy Sedaris). She hosts one or two dinners a month. I started asking about her experiences with the supper club. "It's amazing, with all the dinner parties we've hosted, we consistently meet great people," she said as she poured me a glass of wine. It seems bold to routinely open your home up to complete strangers, who have heard about the event by word of mouth or her website, but Kara does so cheerfully. The dinners usually end up being a mix of about half people she knows and half she doesn't.
A few days before the dinner, everyone was sent a brief questionnaire with a request to answer questions about ourselves, like what you did for a living, your favorite restaurant, and if you had a website. I felt like I was getting ready for summer camp, in the best possible way. I have a theory that New Yorkers are actually some of the nicest people in the world. Not in a faux -friendly, "You have a great day, ma'am," way, but are deep-down incredibly lovely, once you get them to let their guard down. Kara strikes me as some kind of modern innkeeper -- she creates a cozy, charming and unpretentious atmosphere, where the usual Brooklyn suspects -- writers, professors, artists -- can do exactly that.
As we sopped up garlic-y shrimp with thick slices of bread, Kara expanded a little on her philosophy. "I'm a home cook. Not a professional chef, not even a foodie. I know there are supper clubs that do all sorts of wild things, but this one is pretty simple."
The Ted and Amy Supper Club isn't in any sort of game of culinary one-upsmanship, Kara is focused on making things tasty -- with wonderfully delicious results. After the shrimp we had rack of lamb and rich, creamy risotto (the secret is a lot of cheese, she said with a grin and a giggle), followed by a creme brulee which Kara expertly caramelized with a blowtorch. It was certainly several steps above the average, "come over to my house for dinner" invite most would get from a friend. Kara comes exactly as advertised, a home chef -- but a clearly talented one.
Kara and her accomplice David Lifson sat smiling at the head of the table, presiding over their handiwork, and enjoying the fruits of their labors. They offered up seconds and were sure, of course, that the wine got passed around.