Chef Nicole's Secret Supper Clubs are held on Saturday nights at a spot called My Private Chef in Deep Ellum, at the corner Elm and Malcolm X. During the week, Holly Muller uses this place to prepare meals for her private chef business. But on Saturday nights, Chef Nicole Van Camp, originally from Carrollton, takes it over to cook a seven-course meal for 20 people (give or take a few), most of them strangers, who break bread, drink a bottle (or two) of wine, share tall-tales, make jokes and enjoy a slow, local meal together.
I went on a recent Saturday night, for a taste of the secret-supper-club life. Like most buildings in Deep Ellum, the large dining room that encompasses the spot has a rustic and industrial charm to it. Two walls are lined with windows, and through the shutter slats diners catch glimpses of pedestrians on their way to restaurants, bars and clubs outside, as swishing short sequin skirts reflect car headlights.
Admittedly, walking into a room full of strangers sitting at a communal table, already involved in quiet conversation, can be a little intimidating. The waitresses pointed out my spot at the table (right in the middle; no hiding in a corner) and with a deep breath I sat and resolved to make myself part of it. I'll admit it was awkward -- for the entire first 20 seconds.
The easy thing is, we all had a common bond: food. Conversation was smoothly lobbed across the table, usually between three of four people at once, and weaving in and out of exchanges was effortless. Within thirty minutes the laughter started cracking over the murmur. It was a completely delightful event, even for someone who usually prefers to hide in a corner.
Van Camp creates themes for her dinners that lend a little structure to the menu. This time it was "meet the farmers," who were sitting at the table with us, as was Brad Nitschke, whose Nitschke beef was served as part of the main course. And a representative from Scardello made an appearance, to speak about three cheeses served for one of the courses.
The guest farmers, husband and wife Cynthia Mulcahy and Robert Hamilton, spoke to the group for a few minutes about how they discovered their love for farming after they took over Cynthia's father's acre garden when he got sick. He's better now, and the garden is rich. The produce is organic out of natural design, because way out in Bluff Dale they've never needed to use anything that wasn't organic.
Van Camp also came out prior to each course to provide a quick 411 on the ingredients and recipes. Helping her that night was Chef Jason Wright, who also chatted with guests on occasion.
The first course made its way to the table just before 8. The next time I glanced down at my watch it was 11:15 p.m. and the last course had just been served. This is not just a meal, but rather an event. Time flew by; I was never bored, anxious or hungry. The meal was $75, not including tip, and it was BYOB. After parking, it's easily a hundred dollar night. Worth it? Heck yeah.
Follow Chef Nicole's Secret Supper Facebook page for updates on future dinners and check back on Wednesday as we chat one-on-one with Chef Nicole about her cooking background and her passion for sourcing local, organic ingredients.
Now, some food pictures: