The following is a guest post from Jean Tang (jean-tang.com).
“Sunday supper” conjures cool weather comfort food. Urban “eating clubs” call forth virtuosic local cooking dished up for foodies with off-beat appetites. Combine the two for a just cause? You get Supper Club: an exciting concept that held its inaugural dinner on Thursday, September 15, within a lovely, lofty space in St. Mark’s Church.
Supper Club is the brainchild of ioby, a non-profit that supports and facilitates grassroots environmental projects in the five boroughs. The organization’s website says its focus is on “bringing sunlight, open space, fresh food and greenery” to all parts of New York City—and eventually, around the U.S. One of ioby’s more immediate objectives is to democratize access to fresh food, something that two of the evening’s beneficiaries—La Plaza Cultural and The Culinary Kids—are working toward.
At $125 a seat, about 40 diners gathered to eat, drink, support ioby, and celebrate the possibility of hyper-local sourcing everywhere in the city. But first (and in the spirit of locavore dining), we began with this very piece of wealthy, storied land.
Felicia Mayro of the Neighborhood Preservation Center kicked the evening off with a history lesson reminding us that city farming and local sourcing are hardly 21st-century inventions. In the 1970s, The Bouwerie at St. Mark’s was the site of the city’s first greenmarket. The strange spelling was a nod to Peter Stuyvesant’s family farm, the “Bouwerij” (Dutch for “farm”), which thrived in the mid-1600s. Mayro told us that St. Mark’s Church had begun as the Stuyvesant family chapel, a modest structure. (The steeple, fieldstone façade, brick additions, and fence were added later, in the 1800s.)
Now of course, the city’s largest greenmarket is located just blocks away. As we nibbled on the first course (local cheeses and dried fruit), we learned that the various elements of our dinner had been entirely donated, including five courses of wine by importer and distributor V.O.S. Selections, garlic, kale, and peppers from Keith’s Organic Farm at the Union Square Greenmarket, and herbs from Stokes Farm (also at Union Square).
We met Chef Dave Martin, the animated Season One Top Chef finalist, and tucked into dinner. The oohs and aahs were audible, as we devoured an heirloom tomato and watermelon salad, and roasted summer corn salad—dishes prepared in unexpected contrast to the unseasonally chilly weather.
V.O.S. Selections’ five wine pairings served as more of a global sampler, trotting us from Argentina to Greece to California’s Central Coast. My favorite was a woodsy 2009 Cabernet Franc from Club Deluxe in the Columbia Valley.
At my table, Chefs Malisa Rivera and Marion Moses, the couple behind The Culinary Kids, described their efforts to teach a diverse group of 14-18 year olds about fresh food in the Far Rockaways. Having run out of places to grow things in their CSA (currently a 72’ x 104’ plot), the couple and their five children raise shrimp, lobster and tilapia for the community out of oversized Tupperware bins in and around their house. (Appropriately enough, ioby stands for “in our backyards.”)
I felt vaguely as if our conversation was taking place in the 19th-century (minus the Tupperware), until Chef Moses talked about the prominence of processed food—even in his heavily Spanish, Ecuadorian, and Chinese neighborhood. “We’ve changed the diets of people in our area,” he told me proudly, as I eyed my main course.
Chef Martin introduced his beautifully tender hoisin- and cider-rubbed pork tenderloin (carved from a “heritage” pig courtesy of DeBragga), laced with peach-nutmeg-and-kosher honey “salsa,” and served with a plump orzo. This being a pro-environment crowd, chef Martin had also prepared a hearty-looking vegetarian entrée of grilled zucchini and Brussels sprouts.
My favorite course of the evening was its finale: a lightly sweetened lemon panna cotta coated with a layer of salted Chantilly cream, and topped with a dollop of fresh sour cream. Salty, sweet, tangy, and sour melded together, reminding us of the power of contrasts and their abundance in fresh, natural food.
The evening came to a close with a smattering of speeches given by the evening’s three beneficiaries: ioby, La Plaza Cultural, and The Culinary Kids. All in all, it was a night that tasted as good as it felt, and I’m hoping that the concept will become as prevalent, successful, and perhaps mainstream as local dining is in NYC.
The next Supper Club will be held in late December. For details and tickets, go to ioby.org/SupperClub.