A Night in Exile--Chef Hosts Underground Supper Club in Queens
Underground supper clubs are all the rage these days. A number of toques around the city are known to hang up their whites at the end of the night, then go home to plan the menus for the secret dinner parties they throw for their friends and friends of friends.
Lisa Lee is one of three consulting chefs at Macao Trading Co. (Before that, she was at Chanterelle.) When she's not at work, you can still find her cooking for large groups of people at a recurring party she puts on in a secret location.
This past weekend, we scored an invite to one such dinner held at a bona fide speakeasy on a bleak street in Queens. Lee hosted an evening of Moroccan food and music for a select group of about 30.
We've heard that underground supper clubs are something of a trend among young chefs in the city. What do you get out of it?
It's true. A couple of my friends who cook at other restaurants have their own supper clubs. For me, it's strictly about creativity. It's just a chance to play. I get to do recipe development at work, but not to the degree I can do it for these dinners, where I get to do the shopping and design the entire menu.
Photo by Kerri Brewer
How did you get the supper club started?
I've always wanted to do something like this, but didn't have a location. In our small New York apartment, we could never seat 20 people. We used to do these dinners at a friend's barn upstate for 25-30 people. It was so fun for me, so when the opportunity to use [the undisclosed space] came up, I jumped on it.
Your husband, Lucky, helps you out with the wine?
Yes, Lucky manages a boutique Italian wine shop in Midtown. So, he does the wine pairings.
How is yours different from other supper clubs?
We leave a lot to be discovered. We don't disclose the location till the last minute. We don't send out the menu. Also, it's really interactive. We always have music or art to go with the food. You can't just be a spectator at these dinners. You have to participate. You end up meeting someone new, someone that I'd envisioned you'd meet.
The biggest challenge is that my friends keep asking when I can sit with them. These nights are like playing for me. But I still have to work. So I'm in the kitchen, but I'm having fun knowing that everyone is out there enjoying themselves.
Tell me about the food. The last meal was Moroccan (harissa marinated octopus salad, mini lamb tagine b'stilla, orange couscous, Tunisian five spice sfenj for dessert). Is there always a theme?
I like to do food that's bold, presenting things in a new way. I have a food styling background, so maybe that has something to do with it. I also love embracing other cultures. My mom is from the Philippines and my dad is French so I grew up eating all kinds of different foods.
From a food perspective, I've always been fascinated with North African cultures, especially the spice trade there. We did several different courses well into the wee hours because that's how they eat in Morocco.
To get invited to one of Lisa Lee's secret dinners, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. But keep it under your hat--underground supper clubs aren't exactly sanctioned affairs. And that's all part of the allure, isn't it.
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