Stephen Jardine: Home supper clubs hit the right tastebuds with adventurous - and nosey - diners
Name your favourite restaurant. Like me, you probably have a handful of places you've been visiting for years and rotate through your affections based on nothing more than whimsy. But that's dull. Especially if you work in the food and drink business; people want to learn a secret.
They are hoping you will answer the question with details of an Eskimo vegetarian restaurant in a tunnel underneath Oxgangs where the chef cooks blindfolded but produces the best chips this side of Anchorage. Since that place closed last month after an incident with some seaweed and the deep fat fryer, the next nearest thing has to be the secret supper club.
To many people, it would be their idea of hell. Imagine a group of complete strangers turning up on your doorstep. They fill your front room, eat your food and then leave, without doing the washing up.
It may not sound enticing, but more and more people are throwing open their doors and setting up home dining clubs.
Most share the same approach: A website or blog advertises dates and explains what's on offer. On arrival, you receive a glass of fizz and are introduced to your fellow diners before sitting down to a no-choice three or four course meal costing around 25, with guests bringing their own wine to stay on the right side of licensing laws.
Like most things, it's a phenomenon that began in the United States, but arrived in Edinburgh with a flourish. Rachel and Chris Rowley started the capital's first home supper club back at the beginning of last year with the simple idea of allowing people to eat out, in.
The couple are currently taking a break following the birth of a baby, but their work has been enthusiastically taken up by Kitchen Porter, based in Corstorphine, and Aoife Behan's My Home Supper Club.
"I've always loved cooking and I love having people in my home - any excuse for a party. There has been huge enthusiasm from day one from complete strangers," Aoife told me. So who are these people who seek sustenance from those they don't even know?
"They are adventurers, I like to call them gastronauts,",says Aoife.
"They are in search of a new and interesting experience, so conversation generally flows quite easily. We have had boisterous discussions on politics, religion, money, the works." Apart from a broken bottle opener, so far she's had no bad experiences and plans to grow My Home Supper Club by working with Scottish producers on specially-themed events.
With the Glasgow Supper Club and Supper in the Suburbs blazing a trail in the west, the phenomenon seems set to go from strength to strength.
Part of the appeal must be curiosity. Come Dine With Me has become Channel 4's surprise hit, notching up a million followers on its Facebook page. Viewers particularly seem to love the bit when guests poke around the host's home in search of embarrassing secrets.While that's not part of the home supper club experience, we are all naturally nosey and people love to see how others live.
But is something bigger at work, and why now? Aoife Behan thinks the timing is no coincidence.
"The excessive individualism of the last decade has been shown to be a false god", she says.
"In the same way that people are taking up craft activities and baking, people are also looking for more genuine social experiences."
Having written this, I'm keen to give it a go - although I would insist on a short list of those banned from attending: Jedward, Victoria Beckham, Alastair Campbell, Kerry Katona, Rosie Millard - and that's just for starters.
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