It’s a sub-culture of anti-mainstream dining that has been weaving itself into the fabric of millennial Dubai. Yes, it’s elusive, otherwise it would not be an underground supper club!
It’s the ‘scene’ for those foodies who prefer sharing a table with absolute strangers rather than eat at familiar restaurants.
But, now, as post COVID-19 realities hit, this ‘individualistic’ supper club trend is looking for a wider expression to be part of a bigger reality.
But, like all good storytelling, let’s begin at the beginning with…
What brought it about?
To put it simply – ennui, from being part of what everybody else was experiencing, a need to connect with new experiences within the contemporary subtext to simply finding a reminder of home.
Supper club hosts often get inspired by either the idea of feeding nourishing soulful comfort food or, in some cases, it stems from the struggle that most expatriates go through to find authentic cuisine that resonates.
So, let’s introduce you to the motley crew that comprises the founding members of the supper club ….
She hails from a quirky collective of Jordanian and Bangladeshi heritages and thanks to this dual gene pool, her culinary practice combines her commitment to the slow-paced, labour intensive and meditative methods of preparing food with an art of storytelling, intuition and alchemy to produce edible feasts. Her dishes are an inspiration from her interests as a community program developer with several art foundations within the UAE, and through research and experiences as a culinary navigator with Frying Pan Adventures, which is one of Dubai’s first walking food tour programs.
“Combining desires of hosting like a doting grandmother, learning about the foods that I grew up with, I began to host private dinners of up to 20 guests, where all proceeds went to charities in Jordan, focused on purchasing heaters and winter gear for Syrian refugees in Jordan.”
What she grew to realise was how interconnected and warm the Dubai community is.
“Every guest has brought so much value to me and my home. As an artist, I appreciate any slow, meditative, generous method. As an alchemist I am enamored by how ingredients transform. And as a storyteller, I am attached to contexts and histories and how they can translate into a dish.”
Girl & the Goose by Gabriella Chamorro (Gigi):
As a child Chamorro’s toys were never dolls, but instead she played with kitchen utensils. She aspired be a chef, especially pushed by her grandmother. And the supper club movement is how Chamorro has slowly but surely achieved that childhood dream, one spoonful at a time. She strongly believes that not matter your background, political or religious views, at the end of the day nothing brings people closer than food.
“I grew up with my grandmother who was a cook herself. She took me along to all the events she was hired for. Over the years I continued experimenting with different cuisines, taking courses all over the world and going all out when cooking for friends and family.
“After a bit of soul searching, running a supper club seemed a scary but equally exciting opportunity to nourish my dream, despite having chosen a completely different professional path. I brought Nicaragua closer to Dubai and showed people that healthy food doesn’t have to be boring.
“Every event is unique as are the people that show up that night. I feed my mind from the energy and positive vibe that each guest brings into my table. As intimidating as it may seem to dine with strangers in an unfamiliar house, it’s exactly we thrive on; to see how a group of unacquainted strangers come together in our homes to enjoy great company and share anecdotes over good food.”
Tano’s at 8 by Kinda and Sultan Chatila:
Although not chefs by profession, this couple is equally qualified to wow an audience of experts in the field. With Kinda being a pastry pundit, and Sultan specialising in all things savoury, their menus are curated from their travels, experiences, and seasonal ingredients.
Kinda and Sultan both wanted to create a space where they could come alive in and be able to share it with others.
She told the Gulf News Food team: “Our menus are inspired by our experiences, travels and seasonal ingredients. But to be honest, our first menu was inspired by pure pressure, which was when I had casually posted on Sultan’s Instagram account that we were planning to host our first supper club back in 2019 without really informing Sultan that I had done that. And with just three days to prep, we whipped up a quick menu for a party of strangers who so eagerly agreed to visit is.
“Our supper club name is a play on the time that most suppers are served at, which was 8pm, and the usual number of guests invited, which was again 8. Hence the play on the name Tano Sat 8. When our invitees increased to 10 people, the name stuck with a slight variation: Tano’s at 8.”
For the couple, the best part of the club is the adrenaline rush right before the first guests enter.
“It’s the rush of the dinner prep, the energy of the guests and then the awkwardness that is inevitable when your guest first arrives to an obscure house. But gradually it evolves to a sense of excitement, and finally the strangers that came, leave as friends like they’ve known each other for years!”
Dulce de Mirchi by Priyal Mehta:
Growing up, she was always a food fanatic with an interest in learning from her mum and sisters in the kitchen. She only started thinking of it as a culinary profession whilst at business school in New York, where she started to cook a lot, especially, initially for survival, but hadn’t thought of pursuing it professionally. After building a marketing career with FMCG brands for 3 years, Mehta finally decided to take the leap from her corporate job and turned to pursue her passion for the culinary arts, and thus began her gastronomic journey.
“After my chefs training program at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York, I had the opportunity to start working at some of the city’s best restaurants including Jean George’s ABC restaurants and Kajitsu. During this time, someone also approached me to do a Thai private dinner for her book club. With no previous experience in private dining, I was quite anxious, yet I went ahead with it anyway and it worked out beautifully, thus kickstarting a series of private dinners.
“Prior to this, I had decided to start my own Instagram page dedicated to food adventures. After brainstorming names during a road trip, dulce de leche was always at the tip of my tongue (cravings, maybe?), and that altered to ‘Dulce de Mirchi’, which resonated with me the most as an Indian and as a fan of chilis! The name translates to ‘sweet of spicy’ or the ‘best of spice’ (dulce = sweet, mirchi = spicy/chili).
“I returned to Dubai after culinary school when I didn’t know a lot of people at the time. The supper clubs were an amazing opportunity to meet wonderful people in Dubai who shared a similar passion for food. People always come with an open mind here in the UAE, versus my pop-up experiences previously held in Mumbai, and are willing to try new food and converse with new people.”
How has COVID-19 impacted supper clubs?
It was a great run for a while, then the pandemic hit. The supper club hosts had to align their strategy to suit the changing economy and the anxiety of the general public.
Tabbaa explained: “It changed a lot. While I can only open it up to private groups many individuals still yearn to meet new people at the table. The surprise element of meeting someone new …has been paused.”
Chamorro clarified. “It has been a difficult time for the community. I put the supper club on hold for a long time and then hosted private and smaller groups only. We are all very looking forward to the situation improving over the coming months.”
Kinda Chatila said that the biggest challenge, post-COVID-19, has been to continue offering a dining “experience”.
She said: “Given the pandemic, we had to quickly pivot and stop hosting as people were not comfortable sitting with strangers. So the real challenge became on how we continue to express our passion and keep Tano’s at 8 alive during the pandemic.”
Given the pandemic, we had to quickly pivot and stop hosting as people were not comfortable sitting with strangers. So the real challenge became on how we continue to express our passion and keep Tano’s at 8 alive during the pandemic.
A problem that resonates just too well with Mehta, but she adapted. “I haven't hosted a supper club in exactly one year now!
“Early in the lock down I started care packages, which included a four-course delivery menu, which I changed on a weekly basis. This one came with a lot of hesitation; initially, as I never saw my food going away in boxes - as the whole experience completely changes the supper club.
“However, we all had to adapt to the situation, and with carefully crafted packaging and re-heating instructions, I was quite happy with this new model of delivering food instead of having people over for dinner. It turned out to be quite feasible and it pushed me more creatively, keeping me on my toes to create a new menu each week!”
What’s happening right now?
Tabbaa shared that she is looking to collaborate with fellow artists, artisanal food makers and supper club hosts in the community “…to develop dinners and menus together. I’m also working on publishing my recipes which is a large project in itself.”
Meanwhile Chamorro plans to stick to what has worked for her. “It is not only about what others can bring into my life but also how I can help them achieve their goal. I want to continue to inspire people and show them that healthy food does not have to be boring.”
It is not only about what others can bring into my life but also how I can help them achieve their goal. I want to continue to inspire people and show them that healthy food does not have to be boring.
Kinda is a bit more organic in her perspective for Tano’s at 8. “Honestly, we would like to say that we have a clear-cut vision and plan, but in all truth, everything that has led us to this moment has been built organically and based on us just doing what we love. We certainly would love to own and run our own restaurant one day.”
Mehta, like Chamorro wants to go back to her first love, while maintaining the side hustles.
“I am just looking forward to the day I can resume my supper club. With the care packages and spice jars going out on a regular basis, I’ve decided this is something I would like to continue, perhaps in a cloud kitchen. However, the private dining experiences and supper clubs are closest to my heart.”
So, how can anybody be a part of this movement?
Although most supper clubs have been halted for a while, some hosts have restarted their dinners to host socially distanced smaller groups, with extra precautions being taken prior to their dinners.
To find out more about these hosts and to learn about the upcoming dates of their suppers, check their instagram handles:
And if you want to become a super club host, well, start with networking, connecting with the community via social channels, build your culinary repertoire, and you are ready to give it a shot. As they say, sweet dreams are made of these….
The writer is a kitchen experimenter, an avid supper clubber and certified food tourist guide