Making friends as an adult has to be one of life's biggest challenges. Most of my adult friends are somehow involved in blogging or social media, which means we mostly "hang out" online. Occasionally, when there's a meetup, media event or conference, we actually get dressed and go see each other, face to face, in real life. But a few drinks and some industry talk are usually the extent of it. Sadly, I have yet to talk any of my online friends into any offline adventuring.
I've decided that I need to approach making new friends much the same way one goes about meeting a new romantic partner. I've decided I need to put myself out there and let people know I'm available for friending! I'm up for anything... book clubs, group bike rides, art classes... any activity that I enjoy that will possibly lead to meeting some new friends. So when Audrey Jacobs reached out and asked me if I'd be interested in attending Chef Peter Calley's Culinary Hedonism Supper Club, I only had one answer
What is a supper club, anyway?
A Supper Club can be a popup or underground restaurant where diners are given a special invitation to join as a professional chef or aspiring chef cooks a fabulous meal for them. It can also refer to a group that visits different restaurants or cooks together at a club member's home.
The Culinary Hedonism Supper Club is a little of both. Created by the the very talented Chef Peter Calley, and hosted at Audrey's beautiful South Park home, dinner is served to a select group of twelve soon-to-be friends, six men and six women, who share a passion for food and life.
Once I accepted Audrey's invitation, a series of emails ensued. First, I reached out to Chef Peter Calley to let him know I would be attending. Within a day, I received a response from him telling me a little more about the dining experience and that his dinners are geared toward the conscientious omnivore featuring dishes that include seasonal produce.
The email also gave instructions about the evening. We were to start arriving at about 6:30 and dinner would begin promptly at 7:00PM. He asked that we give ourselves enough time for crazy San Diego traffic and to understand that texts and calls could not be answered within an hour of arrival time. Guests are encouraged to bring a bottle of something to share. There was also a request from Audrey that each guest bring "a bit of your soul to share,” in the form of a story, song, quote, poem or joke to enliven the conversation.
So this is how Sugar Jones rolls:
After leaving later than I should have because I never learn and then being stuck in traffic, I texted Audrey less than an hour before arrival time letting her know I was running late, but that my navigation assured me I'd be there right at 7:00. I was feeling a little cocky when I arrived at 6:58... until I reached behind my seat to grab the bottle of wine I picked out, only to realize it's sitting on the counter back at home.
Well, at least I brought a bit of my soul to share.
I dabbed some gloss on my lips, fluffed up my hair, and walk/ran in through the side entrance leading to the outdoor oasis, stressed... exactly what you don't want to be when meeting new friends. Thankfully, Audrey is a wonderful hostess and never once made me feel anything but comfortable. Her calm demeanor settled my nerves and right as I was finishing my check in, we were invited to sit at the beautifully appointed table. Menus, weighted down with pretty jade stones at each setting, revealed the courses Chef had handpicked and prepared for us all.
Not knowing exactly what will be served or who will be there might give some of you pause, but I find the mystery of it all so intriguing. So although the menu was right in front of us, I set it aside and decided to be surprised by each course. It wasn't difficult ignoring the menu as we were being guided in conversations by Audrey, who randomly chose the next person to share that little bit of their soul that she mentioned in her email.
I learned two dirty jokes, found out that women play polo (how did I not know this?) and which places to visit when I finally travel to Italy. I also talked to a couple about our adventures tasting from the food trucks in Portland, as they had just returned from a weekend getaway to one of my favorite cities of the Northwest. I got to share my favorite Anais Nin poem and heard about a book that is now on my list to read. Thankfully, we only talked about social media for about a minute.
It was the best dinner conversation I'd had in such a long time!
But maybe I should tell you about the food, yes?
We started with a bowl of Willamette Valley Chestnut and Duck Veloute' with Sunchoke and Chive Oil. Sunchoke, if you're not familiar, is what vegans make "fakon" out of. It's a tuber that looks a lot like ginger root, but taste lightly of artichokes. The chokes added the perfect tang and crispness to the soup.
Next up was the Pacific Yellowtail Crudo with Crispy Kumquat, Black Radish, and Maldon Salt. I lived on Yellowtail (a.k.a. Hamachi) during our year in Ensenada. It's a light and flavorful fish that we're lucky to have a plentiful bounty of here off our regional coast.
Before we were done learning about another guest's experience as a polo player, the next course arrived: Wild Boar Croquette made with with Gruyere, Harissa Aioli, and Scallions. Wild Boar is one of those meats that has been popping up in many establishments and I'm always excited to see it on the menu. The earthiness of the gruyere was the perfect accompaniment for the heartiness of the wild boar. I sprinkled on a little more of the Maldon Salt flakes, just because.
Don't worry... we didn't forget to eat our veggies. Those came out as we were hearing the harrowing near-death experience of one guest on a motorcycle crossing Coronado Bridge at night. The Roasted Pattypan Squash with Piquillo Pepper, Lemon Vinaigrette, and Hibiscus Leaves proved that squash doesn't have to be boring. Hibiscus leaves are the same leaves that when dried and boiled make a drink all little Mexican children grow up on called Jamaica (pronounced hah-MY-kuh). They are as pretty as they are edible. Those and the slivers of Piquillo Pepper were a bright and tart addition to the mellowness of the squash.
My favorite course had to be the Beef Marrow Bone. Chef served the bones up with pickled Mustard Seeds, house-made grilled Rosemary Boule Crostini, and Parsley Salad tossed in lemon and oil. I'm not ashamed to admit that I could easily picture myself picking up the bone and sucking it dry of all its juices. I suddenly understood why my dog growls at me when I try to take a bone away from him. While I devoured, the gentleman across from me sang "The Way You Look Tonight" to his date as his contribution to our evening.
The marrow bones hold the hidden flavors that we only get a tiny taste of when we're sipping a beef stock. When cut and warmed, the marrow within the bone becomes liquid, allowing us, the hedonists to enjoy. I sopped up the marrow with the rosemary crostini and enjoyed everything the musky sweetness was doing in my mouth. The parsley, touched with a bit of the mustard, cut the richness for a moment until I went in for another pleasure-filled sop of marrow and crostini.
The decadence continued with house-made Bucatini with Tomato Sauce and Goat Cheese, and then to a dish of Dinde au Vin (Turkey made with a California Pinot Noir) with local Cremini Mushrooms, salt pork lardon, and Duchess Potatoes.
At this point, I was drinking a Barbera that had the tiniest hint of raisin. I said, "You know what would be great? Some bread pudding." The other guests looked at me like, "Well, yeah... that's what's on the menu." Since I had been ignoring the menu, this was a very happy turn of events! The only thing I could think that would make the meal any better was actually on its way!
And it did NOT disappoint. The Brioche Pudding was made with Chestnuts, Dark Chocolate, topped with Bourbon Butter Sauce, and the plate was dotted with a bit of Cranberry Coulis. Perfection!
At the end of the meal, you place a “donation” (whatever you think the meal was worth) into a small purse that's passed around the table. Most people pay around a hundred dollars for the evening. As the purse was passed, we were invited to gather around the fire pit to put a fun cap on the night with some S'mores making. I love a group that doesn't take itself too seriously.
But it's obvious that Chef Peter takes his hedonism seriously. What a pleasure to be among passionate people enjoying a decadent meal. I was sad to leave that space, but promised to return for another Culinary Hedonism experience.