After walking down the crushed shell driveway and standing on the simple brick and flagstone stoop, this could be any one of a number of similar homes on Cape Cod. Inside, it was like taking a step back in time. All that was missing was the hiss of the Way Back Machine’s air lock. Guitars hung on the wall, and the all-important Super Nintendo video game console was hooked up to the old TV. On any other night, we could have joined in on a jam session or attempted to make it to the next level of The Legend of Zelda. Tonight, however, this was the scene of the Yarmouth Port Supper Club, and what a scene it was. The brainchild of chef Peter Bunce, the Yarmouth Port Supper Club is a once-a-month affair where Peter and his girlfriend Christina Prairie open their home to a dozen people who are looking for a truly unique dining experience.
Supper clubs and in-home chef services are two areas of growing popularity in Cape culinary culture. Chefs are getting more and more creative with ways to a) make ends meet through the long cold winter when many restaurants are shuttered, and b) feed their passion for crafting new and exciting dishes. The results are opportunities for the dining public to dine outside of the public eye. Who doesn’t relish, on some level, the ability to enjoy an event to which not everyone is privy? It’s the “velvet rope syndrome”. Everything just seems a little bit better when you don’t have to share it with the masses. More and more, you can have these experiences with some big names from the ranks of Cape Cod chefs.
Our chefs this night were the aforementioned Bunce, who also can be found at Hanger B Eatery in the Chatham airport, and his friend John Riccardo of Solstice in Kingston. Bunce, with his stiletto goatee, and Riccardo, bearing a full sleeve tattoo, look as if they should be fronting a rock band. Their stage this night, however, was the kitchen, and they were making those pots and pans sing.
The passed hors d’oeuvre of foie gras au torchon with sweet onion, thyme and honey; subtle duck sausage on a crostini topped with cranberry marmalade; and the Great Hill blue cheese and pecan-stuffed dates wrapped in prosciutto opened our eyes to the fact that this was going to be a tremendous meal. It was all we could do to not gobble up all of the sumptuous little morsels, and there were platters and platters of them. We knew we needed to save ourselves for what was to come. What we didn’t realize was that this was just the start of what would become a ten-course feast!
The décor, like the guests this evening, was varied and eclectic. The two tables held the two parties of six comfortably. That arrangement didn’t last long, however, and in short order the two tables were pushed together and introductions were made all around. Strangers from different generations coming together and having a great time meeting and dining with one another is part of what makes a supper club special. In a restaurant setting, we would never have met these fine people. Here, we were laughing and carrying on with new friends.
A savory parsnip soup with freshly shaved Burgundy truffles indicated we were still just warming up. The endive and pear salad with roasted butternut squash, sunflower seeds and a spiced brown sugar vinaigrette was a bright and crisp transition to the heartier courses to come. A pasta course of pumpkin agnolotti with sage brown butter and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano marked the midway point, and yet Peter and John showed no signs of flagging. Six different courses, six very different tastes and there wasn’t a hint of a let down in any of them.
Another aspect of the supper club is the ability to observe the chefs at their craft. Watching Peter deftly work the truffles over the razor sharp blade of a mandoline, you can’t help but wince with each pass. Who says you can’t get an adrenaline rush in the kitchen? You can ask questions about their process, like how and why they pair certain foods together to create their finished dish, while they are in the middle of creating them. You might get away with doing that once in a restaurant kitchen. Of course, that could result in raised voices, frenzied running and no answers to the questions that you came in with in the first place.
The co-headliners of the evening came next. Braised pork cheeks with creamy polenta followed by pan roasted duck breast with mushrooms, faro and a red wine reduction had the group groaning with delight. A small wedge of Humboldt Fog goat cheese and roasted beets signaled the transition from savory to sweet, which brought us to the exclamation point of the evening: a Bavarian apple tort prepared by Christina from a recipe courtesy of Peter’s mom. The light crust and sweet apples made for fitting final flavors that lingered on the tongue long after the tables were cleared.
One might think that with all this food, Peter and John’s toughest job lay ahead: trying to roll twelve ballooned-up Violet Beauregards who had visited Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory out the door. We were sated but not overly stuffed, which is a testament to our chefs’ portion control.
Everything about the dinner was spot on. Every dish was well crafted and plated and scrumptious. It was more than that, however. From the size of the servings (we needed to make it through ten courses, after all) and the pacing of the service, to the hospitality of our hosts and the friendliness of our fellow diners, it all made for an ideal night.
The Yarmouth Port Supper Club is a B.Y.O.B affair. It’s understandable if the head starts to swim trying to come up with wine pairings for such a bountiful banquet. We turned to Diane Slater, the wine manager at Cape Cod Package Store in Centerville for help. Armed with a copy of the menu and our budget guidelines, she recommended Château Bel-Air Vielles Vignes with the foie gras, Groiss Grüner Veltliner with the salad, and Illahe Pinot Noir with the entrées. Everything complemented nicely.
Walking down the shell driveway with a satisfied smile across my face, I turned to look at the place I had just left. There was a part of me that expected to see nothing: the house, the chefs, the guests all gone in a cloud of Scottish mist. Okay, Brigadoon it’s not, but the Yarmouth Port Supper Club will leave you waiting and wanting for more. The good news is you don’t have to wait one hundred years for the next one, just a mere thirty or so days.
What’s the cost of such an extravagant night? That is a point not easily pinned down. What the menu consists of and its size are two main factors that change month to month. A range you could expect is $50-$75 per person, but perhaps not for long. As word gets out about this special culinary venture, it could become a rather difficult ticket to get. Find and like Yarmouth Port Supper Club on Facebook to see the menu for next month’s dinner, and to make your reservations to enjoy this unique dining experience.
Another option is to take the idea of the supper club one step further and bring the club to you. There are a growing number of Cape Cod chefs who will come to your home and completely prepare and serve a multi-course meal.
We called on the services of Andrej Klimovsky, whose business is called Cape Cod Private Dinners. Andrej, who arrived in the U.S. twelve years ago as a student from Slovakia is completely self-taught in the art of cooking. Well, working at the Nauset Beach Club in Orleans did play a role in the development of his gift. Within four years, Andre was named head chef at the restaurant. Weary of the long hours and weekends lost, he realized he was missing out on life. “I didn’t want to be a ghost anymore,” he said.
After stepping in to help out a friend who was unable to cater a fundraiser for The Lower Cape Outreach Council, he realized this was something he could do. Ideally, serving a five or six course dinner for 10-12 people would be preferable over the 100 meals he served that first event.
This night he had only a table of four to worry about. After brief introductions, he unpacked and got down to work. The first order of business: mix the tuna-and-avocado-tartare filled cucumber cups.
As Klimovsky served the appetizers—he does all his own serving for small groups—we got to know the man. It was interesting to see how this would work out. Would he stay silently in the background and only appear to announce when the next course was ready? Would he openly insert himself into our conversation, wanted or not? Andrej’s quick smile showed he was comfortable with himself and us. He floated in and out of discussions seamlessly.
You can craft your own menu from the choices Andrej has on his website. Our group couldn’t quite come to an agreement on a salad and appetizer, so we asked if we could combine the two. Andrej happily went along with our wish to combine the baby arugula salad with grilled asparagus and roasted smoked almonds with the fried goat cheese crostini that normally is its own appetizer.
A brief intermission allowed us to step outside and enjoy the cool October night sky, while Andrej prepared the main course of pan roasted duck breast drizzled with an apple cider-duck reduction. A towering celery root and potato gratin along with haricot vert accompanied the duck.
For dessert we had selected a pear tart with Andrej’s homemade caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. The caramel sauce had a dark smoky quality that had us wiping it up and licking it off our fingers after the tart had vanished. The caramel sauce is so tasty that it has its own cult following. Whenever Andrej makes a batch, he must deliver a pint of it to the owner of a local restaurant, for himself. The staff there knows not to touch that pint jar in the walk-in fridge…not if they value their jobs, limbs and/or lives.
As with the Yarmouth Port Supper Club, Andrej supplies almost everything except the wine. He even hauled in his own grill for one event.
It truly is a marvelous way to share a beautiful night with treasured friends and family. Normally as a dinner host, you’re more apt to spend the lion’s share of the evening in the kitchen, preparing and serving the meal and clearing the table while your guests go without your company. Here’s a way for all to enjoy each other’s company as well as an extraordinary meal.
Perhaps you would rather have a family gourmet brunch, or host a cocktail party with passed hors d’oeuvre. Chef Andrej’s versatility can make any occasion a special one.
The options available to you in the world of personal chefs are limited only by your imagination. Sure, you can hire someone to prepare a meal for you and your guests, but what about preparing several days’ worth of meals for you? Several chefs on the Cape offer just that. From the shopping, the assembling and the packaging (complete with reheating instructions), you can leave all the cares and worries about mealtime to the professionals. You could even hire a personalized vacation shopper to stock the fridge for you for when you arrive. Cape Codders could hire one for when they get home from their vacations. No more stomach-wrenching Tupperware surprises awaiting you after being away for a week. In-home cooking classes, pig roasts, backyard barbecues…whatever…whatever type of occasion you’re trying to create, there are a number of chefs blessed with the Cape Cod entrepreneurial spirit who will make it happen for you.
Now, after an evening like this is all said and done, you may need to fight the urge to curse at your cookware. Could it be that dishes like these have never come from these pots and pans while you were wielding them? Perhaps this was the first time certain pieces were ever used. A suggestion? Why not take up Andrej on his offer of an in-home cooking class. That way, for one night at least, you too can cook like a chef. Just try not to let it become your own personal Brigadoon.
Cape Cod Private Dinners (mentioned in this article)
Yarmouth Port Supper Club (mentioned in this article) on Facebook under Yarmouth Port Supper Club
Chef Toby’s Supper Club on Facebook under Chef Toby’s Supper Club or @ChefTobyTHill on Twitter
Larry Egan is an Associated Press award-winning writer and commentator and host of the talk show The Handyman Hotline on Saturdays from 1-3 pm on 95.1 WXTK-FM. He lives in Marstons Mills with his wife Cori and Ziggy, the Portuguese Water Wonder Dog.