One Big Table is the brainchild of Heather (last name excluded for legal reasons), a statuesque and tattooed twenty-five year old nanny and amateur chef. Heather opens up her apartment once a month to twelve or so diners. For forty dollars, guests receive the pleasure of a four-course meal, wine and entertainment. The food is local, mostly organic and the wine is simple but plentiful. Heather joins a growing movement of gastronomes who are taking back food culture from the staid and pricey world of restaurants and bringing a DIY approach to eating and community.
At first, I admit, it was almost too intimate to stand in Heather’s home and watch her race around, given that i had never met her until this evening. But the closeness also built a sort of excitement, a mystery––what will happen next? What are the rules? Less formal than a restaurant but not as relaxed as a dinner party, supper clubs skate a fine-line between private and public spheres. The blurred boundary entices.
For the first thirty minutes or so, my cohorts Steve, Kimberly and I made jilted conversation with the other guests, a group of strangers a decade younger than us. Steve recognized someone from Think Coffee. I bummed a cigarette from Jon Bozeman, a folk singer. We started to loosen up as the hors d'oeuvres arrived. The collard leaves stuffed with cheese grits were a playful and utterly delicious take on stuffed grape leaves and the black-eyed pea hummus on cornbread was homey and satisfying.
Finally dinner was served and everyone sat down at a simple table adorned with tulips in glass milk bottles. There were some really beautiful moments with the food–– the roasted Jerusalem artichoke salad was lovely, the pea shoots offering an ideal accompaniment to the crunchy sweetness of the tubers. The bread pudding was perfectly rich and spotted with bittersweet dark chocolate. The pheasant, on the other hand, was tough and stringy. And the carrot soup was too heavy; the freshness of the vegetables was lost in the cream. But, strangely, even for such a critical and picky eater as myself, it didn’t matter.
At One Big Table, it’s not that the food is beside the point—it is ethically sourced, lovingly cooked and creatively put-together, but more that the meal is not separate from the whole experience. Not to sound overly taken with Heather, which I am by the way, but eating at someone’s home, and knowing that they’ve been cooking for days, for you, is affecting in a different way than eating at a restaurant. It’s like going to a friend’s house for dinner. If one dish doesn’t work out, who cares? You forgive them in a way you would never a chef, particularly if you are paying forty dollars for an entrée, let alone the rest of the meal. Restaurateurs are out to make money; Heather is trying to break even. For her, the supper club is an experiment in bringing people together and giving back. Her earnest and giving nature infuses the evening.
After three hours at the table and several bottles of wine, everyone loosened up. Kimberly and I tried to talk Jon into becoming a nanny. Steve met a young graduate student studying Cuban history. Someone rolled a joint. Coffee was served. Brian Peck and Jon Bozeman sang sweet folk songs while VJ Sarah played beautiful ambient video clips. The mood was open and bohemian in a 1970’s Laurel Canyon, Joni Mitchell kind of way. Us forty-ish folks were smitten and didn’t get home until two am, a rarity. We all agreed—the best dining experience we’ve had in recent history.