My First Supper Club

Two weeks into my decision to (once again) quit a corporate job for the dream of entrepreneurial ‘bliss’ and flexibility, I decided to organise a Supper Club. Which is like setting up a pop-up restaurant, for one night only, where people pay a set price to enjoy a variety of food. You can test recipes, get real-time feedback, sharpen your skills, see how you do under pressure – all sorts of wonderful things can be learned. On top of these reasons, here’s what else motivated me:

  • Dream of having my own cafe√
  • Like to cook √
  • Lots of time for planning√
  • Ideas galore √
  • Overambitious √
  • Slightly insane √

And so I made the first step towards this goal by booking a lovely little venue in East London on 10 Cable Street.

Right. There was no turning back now – date was set, deposit was paid, menu was drafted. I carefully typed it all up into an Eventbrite page and excitedly announced it to the world. Uhm, mostly to my friends to be honest…

To my surprise (yes, still struggle with self-belief at times, especially in new ventures), people were SO supportive and they started buying tickets. This thing was actually going to happen and it was going well. What an amazing feeling!

A few weeks went by and it sold out. A combination of pride and panic was taking over me gradually.

I started planning for this from day one, thinking about the menu, the venue capacity, the inventory of the kitchen I was going to work in, the ingredients, flavours, pairings, decorations, etc. I had exactly a month to deliver this, but 80% of the work was concentrated in ONE day. The day of the event. When that realisation hit me, a few days before the event, I almost wanted to cancel. I realised there was just me, 30 people to feed, an overambitious menu, a kitchen unfit for my menu and an INSANE amount of tasks. To give you an idea of what I had planned, here’s the menu:

Homemade mulled wine 

Pulled ‘pork’ and red cabbage slaw sliders

Smokey hummus with cranberry sauce and crispy ‘bacon’

Mac and cheese paprika balls

Main 

Sage and apricot nut roast (pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, chestnuts, brazil nuts)

Creamy mashed potatoes with garlic and rosemary

Maple-glazed parsnips and carrots

Roasted turmeric and coriander cauliflower

Chilli charred Brussels sprouts with pomegranate and balsamic fig dressing

Red wine gravy

Cranberry sauce

Dessert 

Poached pears with citrus peel and spices

Chocolate and orange mousse with praline dust

Goodie bag

Homemade pancake mix

But I didn’t quit. I wanted to see it through. So I split the tasks.

  • Goodie bag prepping on Sunday
  • Food delivery on Monday
  • Sauces, storable garnishes, table plans and decorations on Tuesday
  • Vegetable prepping, list making and packing on Wednesday
  • COOKING it all, assembling, serving,  hosting, greeting washing, cleaning and looking good while doing it on Thursday (day of the event)

You can already see the flaws in this plan. It was still too much to achieve on the day of the event.

I didn’t sleep the night before. Maybe in and out, with regular jumping out of bed to check something I may have forgotten and write down more things I needed to do.

The morning of the event came, I had my green juice and coffee, I packed 16 bags of stuff I needed to take to the venue, jumped in an overly expensive taxi and drove all the way across the river to the other side of London. Yes, I could have found something closer to home, but nah.

In the car, I called my dad and told him I’m not sure how I am going to do this, that I gave myself too much to do and need help and no one was available until the evening. We talked about lessons to be learned, the importance of having a team, delegating and generally keeping it sane and doable! I knew I had to see this through despite the overwhelming anxious feelings I had.

I got to the event and when seeing how lovely and cosy and Christmassy it was, I forgot about what’s ahead and actually felt excited and happy. It was going to be fine!

Two hours into prepping on my own, which went quite well, I stumbled upon the first MAJOR setback. One of my starters, which I prepared the night before, as it was easy to store and use the next day, had spoiled overnight. My lovely mac&cheese balls went sour, perhaps because of storing the mixture while hot, not allowing it to cool down beforehand. It obviously was a rookie mistake. As a home cook, not a professional chef, there were things I didn’t know. Quite a few actually.

I obviously freaked out and thought the worst, but there was no time to dwell on it. I had no time to make a new batch, not with everything else still to be done. So I had to accept the fact I will serve only two canapés instead of three.

I moved on to prepping the veggies for roasting. And then realised I made another mistake.

I prepped the cauliflower the night before (washing, cutting it up, seasoning, storing in food bags) and it had marinated. Which then prevented it from properly cooking in the oven. I had to start all over again with this one, buy new cauliflower and cook it fresh on the day.

By 4PM I have to admit I was in tears. Mainly because of exhaustion, secondly from feeling so bad about these things that didn’t go as planned.

But then I remembered things never do, that life is exactly like this: surprises, set-backs, mistakes, recovering, learning, moving on. With support from my friends and my inner KIND voice, I moved on and did my best despite these hurdles.

I managed to get the canapés ready in time and on the tables and people started showing up. But I was dreading the moment I would tell them one of the appetisers was not going to be served.

I was still in the kitchen by this point (an open plan one – so people could see me! and my stress levels), definitely not following my plan to change into a dress beforehand, put make up on and personally greet everyone. I had to rely on the amazing people in my life to help me see this through.

One lovely friend helped me set the tables, another helped me serve the mulled wine, another one stood by my side in the kitchen and helped with everything, and everyone else mingled and made everyone feel welcome.

With my turmeric stained gloves on and holding a bottle of water tightly to my chest (after using it and a cork screw to get people’s attention through that ‘clink-clink’ pre-speech sound), I faced my public. I thanked everyone for coming, I genuinely and funnily expressed my apologies about the failed mac&cheese starter and showed everyone I was a tiny human with a huge task and that I was going to get that food to them no matter what! And I think they actually didn’t mind. Laughed with me and supported me regardless.

That was the highlight of my night to be honest. The people. Amazing people gathered together to enjoy each other’s company and some food too. I don’t know if the event was more about food than it was about human connection…

The main came out at around 8pm, with a slight delay and possibly some cold trimmings (the perks of having one small oven and 10 roasting trays that needed to cook at the same time), but it looked great and it was delicious too, according to feedback and empty plates!

I could feel the pressure slowly disappearing once I finished serving the main. I finally was able to go around the tables, talk to people, SMILE and enjoy what I created from my passion!

I felt proud. Proud that I pushed through, that I finished what I started despite really struggling at points. That is probably the biggest lesson!

Serving the dessert was bliss. This was the simplest course on my menu, probably the most delicious one too, and easy to assemble. This is how all my menu should have been like. But hey! Another lesson learned. Keep things simple! Especially when doing it for the first time and on your own.

And that was that, my friends. I managed to get all the food out, everyone enjoyed it, the place looked lovely, the kitchen was a mess by the end, but I was happy. And so freakin’ grateful. And exhausted. But happy! Hahahaa

I want to thank everyone that came, everyone that helped, everyone that supported me from afar. You all made this an amazing night and a successful first event!

Will I organise another one any time soon? Maybe. With a professional team behind me. Or a simpler menu. Realistic planning would help, yes.

Love,

Maria xx

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