Tuesday 28 February 2017

Recipes: Lilly Higgins shares the secrets of her successful supper club

Lilly Higgins shares the secrets of her successful supper club, with fail-safe, stress-free recipes to keep a large group of guests coming back for more

Lilly Higgins

I had been running my food blog for about six months when I came up with the idea of cooking for some of the readers. I felt it would be too formal and awkward to have a party of six strangers over, but the idea of having a large gathering with lots of food and a relaxed homely atmosphere was appealing.

I usually go headfirst into different projects but, as it happened, my sister Maeve was doing a comedy gig in Ms Marmite Lover's underground supper club in London. I went with her and the whole world of the supper club was opened up to me.

It was great to see how Ms Marmite cooked in her domestic kitchen for 30 guests and how everyone was so excited to be in her home.

The atmosphere was unlike any restaurant I've been in. It was relaxed and informal, the seating was communal and everyone got to know each other by the end of the night.

In London and many other cities, there are clandestine clubs springing up everywhere. Some specialise in vegetarian food or cakes, some are completely free, others cost £150 per person!

The variety is huge and there is something for everyone.

On the plane home from London, I wrote down all my ideas in my notebook before I'd forget them, all the lessons I'd learned and the entire menu plans that I wanted to cook.

I had already decided on a name -- Loaves & Fishes -- so I drew out different logo designs and, by the time the plane had landed, I was ready to launch my new venture.

There are some key elements that all come together to make a supper club. These are all things I've learnt and picked up as I've run Loaves & Fishes for the past year, and they are all things to consider if you would like to start one yourself.

Hopefully, more people here at home will, as the Irish are renowned for being welcoming and having gorgeous produce, so why wouldn't it work brilliantly?

The first thing to consider is why you would do it. I love cooking for people and come from a family of 10, so am used to cooking for large groups. I also dreamt of opening a restaurant and went to Ballymaloe Cookery School with that in mind, but the flexibility and control that the supper club offers suits me more.

It gives me a taste of what being a restaurateur would be like without all of the financial commitments, such as rent, rates or staff.

My sisters waitress for the night and, luckily for me, they are friendly and chatty while still being brilliantly calm and professional. I want guests to know that even though they are in the relaxing atmosphere of a private home, there are very capable people running the show.

For the first supper, I cooked five massive courses and everyone rolled home late that night.

Now I'm more portion conscious -- and yes, the chocolate soup is gorgeous but that doesn't mean everyone can have a huge bowl after four previous dishes! Serving food to 30 people simultaneously means that menu planning is key; cooking steaks would be a nightmare.

It's important to be able to cater for coeliacs, vegetarians and anyone with a food foible. People really appreciate it.

I've learnt a lot over the past year. Some people have a mushroom phobia. 'Bring Your Own Bottle' often results in crates of wine. And, most importantly, always make enough for a midnight feast for hungry 'staff'.

Here are some fail-safe recipes that are great for entertaining.

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