Reclaiming the Supper Sensation
In today’s culinary circle, the word supper has become shorthand for dining experiences that evoke or encourage communion over a shared meal. The term is popping up on menus, in social media posts, and as part of restaurant names and loyalty programs as cooks, chefs, and restaurateurs capitalize on consumer cravings for personal interactions and simpler times. How that plays out across the table varies from region to region and from one business model to the next. But as FSR talked to cooks and chefs who call the meals they serve supper, one thing became clear: It’s about more than food. Whether served in a home, a restaurant, or some quirky underground location, supper is about connecting over food, say the spectrum of chefs serving the meal today.
“Supper is a family thing,” says Chef Sarah Master.
After cooking in several James Beard award-winning restaurants in Minneapolis, Chef Master returned to her hometown of Pengilly, Minnesota, to take over the restaurant at Mr. Roberts Resort. In re-launching the resort’s supper club, Chef Master knew she wanted to incorporate both regional and family traditions into the dining experience. Supper clubs in the Great Lakes region date back to the 1930s, when the dining establishments were introduced as rural alternatives to big-city speakeasies and steakhouses.
The menu at Mr. Roberts includes composed dishes, but comfort food revamped is the star: Delicacies like macaroni and cheese–stuffed meatloaf, smelt fries, venison stroganoff, and lamb bacon BLT. The décor, down to the dishes, is intended to mimic the atmosphere of home.
“Our chairs and plates are all mix-and-match because that’s what I remember growing up,” Chef Master says. “Grandma’s china never matched.”
Across the country in Austin, Texas, supper as interpreted by Fixe co-owners Kevin House and Chef James Robert is a genteel Urban South affair. The restaurant likens its dinner service to “Sunday supper every day of the week,” and carries that positioning throughout all aspects of the Fixe experience. Its social media posts are tagged #supper. Meals start with fresh-baked biscuits served with house-made preserves. The restaurant’s design aesthetic—with its porches, terraces, and formal dining room—is evocative of a Southern estate.
“When we thought about what we wanted to do with Fixe, we kept coming back to taking great care of people,” says House. “Dinner is about getting food; supper is an event.”
Kenan Hill, an Atlanta-based food blogger and home cook, offers a similar take.
“I don’t view supper as something you can eat by yourself,” says Hill, who grew up in a family where supper often meant strangers at the dinner table. “It’s a social thing, a community-building thing.”
Hill regularly hosts informal dinner parties in her home through EatWith, a peer-to-to-peer networking platform that facilitates home-dining experiences across the world. The online and mobile portal connects would-be diners with chefs and cooks in 190 cities in 34 countries.
Hill often eats with her guests during her EatWith parties to encourage conversation and answer questions about the food she has prepared. The conversation continues post meal, as Hill and guests keep in touch through the EatWith online messaging system.
“We feel supper is the original social network,” says Naama Shefi, EatWith’s New York marketing director.
Mimi Maumus, the chef/owner of home.made catering in Athens, Georgia, calls the monthly supper club events she hosts inside her home.made storefront “no-fuss dinner parties—as conceptualized by chefs.”
Like Fixe’s Chef Robert, Maumus offers a menu based on the flavors and ingredients of her Louisiana childhood.
“I think back to when I was a kid in our house out in the country,” Maumus says. “Supper was informal, family-style, full of fresh ingredients. And that’s precisely what I’m trying to replicate.”