Harvest Festival Supper Club, read all about it:
This event was planned, organised, catered for and hosted by me and held at Fields Beneath, an independent plant-based cafe in North London where I worked as a chef. Below is a short article about the build up to the event.
After a month of intense planning, several concise spreadsheets and half a notebook, I finally hosted my first supper club on Sunday 22nd September. The theme of the event was harvest festival, a time for landowner and worker to shed the constraints of their class and come together to share in the bounty of the fields - a night of communal eating and drinking, where not even the poorest peasant was overlooked. A more modern iteration, that you might remember from your youth, was the practice of bringing non perishable goods to the church to donate the the less fortunate. Uninspired by my memories of nervously walking down the isle with a tin of beans to set at the alter, I honoured the tradition of sharing, by donating 15% of the proceeds made from ticket sales to a London based homeless charity instead.
I thought I would have unlimited freedom when choosing my ingredients as it’s the time of year when most produce is available. However, due to my decision to source solely from the British Isles, I was somewhat limited when it came to the more basic ingredients that a chef often takes for granted. Foregoing the use of spices, I fell back on Maldon salt (produced in Essex), British grown rapeseed oil and the myriad of herbs that are grown in the UK.
The most challenging aspect was undoubtedly the search for a sweetener. After weeks of haplessly wandering Google for raw sugar beets and a foray into making my own molasses from beetroot, I happened across the English pantry’s stalwart sweetener - malt extract. A thick sticky syrup that gets everywhere and tastes of bread childhood, I was thrilled to find such an overlooked staple. Though too heavy for baking, and not quite sugary enough to satisfy your average sweet tooth, it served its purpose perfectly as the base from which to add the fifth taste to my meal.
After much deliberation on the format of the meal, my lightbulb moment came when I had the idea to theme each course on a different area of the harvest. The first couple were obvious: orchard, field, kitchen garden - all bountiful in their own unique way. Pumpkin patch came as an homage to the not so British pumpkin pie, and finally forest floor, a tribute to the often overlooked (thought less so nowadays) side of the harvest: foraging. So, with my courses titled and my fingers itching to experiment, I dived head first into creating flavour pairings and combinations of textures to wow the palettes of my prospective guests.
A couple of weeks of round the clock note taking and a few nights of troubled sleeping for an overactive mind: I had a menu, a venue, a guest list and the makings of a supper club. Having consulted the vendors at my local organic farmers market on how to cook which to get the best results, I decided to source the bulk of my produce from them to better help support the local community. So with a backpack laden with ingredients and a bursting tote bag to boot, that I struggled my way to the train station on the morning of the event. I was met by a metal shutter and a poster announcing planned closures for engineering works. After a very calculated “I’m going to miss my flight” style panic, I set about ordering a cab, only to be informed that that day was actually car-free day across central London, and drivers were running with severe delays. 15 minutes and a few supportive words from a friend later, I was stuck in traffic and running an hour late.
In hindsight, I had taken what turned out to be quite an ignorant approach to the planning and prep, stubbornly refusing any help and powering through solo. I was so determined to do it alone from start to finish, that it took my brother several gentle suggestions before I caved and accepted his help, a mere 4 hours before launch. He arrived to a kitchen heaving with activity and set to work immediately, so that with his help I was only 15 minutes late to open the doors, turning away friend and stranger alike as they queued for entry. A flash rehearsal and a flustered Barney later, my guests for the first sitting were seated and being wooed by my brother (now playing host) and his introduction to the evening.
I spent much of the first sitting in the grips of my own anxiety: will they like it? Do the flavours work? Am I doing it properly? Until I realised one key thing. If something didn’t go according to my plan then no one would know apart from me. A simple realisation but I can tell you now that it lifted the weight off my shoulders and allowed me to begin having fun. Over the chatter of happy guests I bustled away in the kitchen with the help of my colleague Keke, happily whiling away the time without actually keeping an eye on it, until the guests for my second sitting were eagerly looking in the door as the first sitting enjoyed their penultimate course. After a very warming round of applause and several thank you’s later I had to unceremoniously kick the guests of my first sitting out to prepare for the second.
I was now well into the swing of the festivities and could interact with my guests in a cordial manner without my eyes twitching with anxiety, and the second sitting went perfectly. I was shocked at the amount that I had learnt even in the course of a few hours, and I keenly applied that newly found knowledge to my dishes.
It was many photos and hugs later, after my last guest had left and my diligent brother had helped me tidy up and pack the delivery bike to courier everything back to the prep kitchen, when I realised that my key to said kitchen was safely locked in said kitchen. My heart dropped when I realised that I would have to return to the venue at 6am (a mere 7 hours from then) to return everything. A few panicked phone calls to my boss later and as luck had it he was still up and working, and I could shake off the last panic of the day.
It was midnight before I got into bed, exhausted but happy, my mind racing with ideas of what to do next.