The rise of underground supper clubs 

Exploring the thrill of closed-door dining

click to enlarge PHOTO BY KATRIN SCHAEFER / FLICKR - JOIN THE CLUB An emerging trend in many major cities is the underground supper club, like at 12B in Vancouver, where Chef Todd treats guests to a culinary experience you won't find in your average restaurant.
  • Photo by Katrin Schaefer / Flickr
  • JOIN THE CLUB An emerging trend in many major cities is the underground supper club, like at 12B in Vancouver, where Chef Todd treats guests to a culinary experience you won't find in your average restaurant.

When the crash of '08 dramatically devastated the global economy, many entrepreneurs were forced to come up with new and creative ways to pay the bills — necessity being the mother of invention and all that.

A resourceful bunch by nature, this trend extended to pockets of budding young chefs who saw the bleak financial realities of a post-crash economy as a license to do something outside the white-linen-clad dining world.

By 2010, stories started popping up all over about the emergence of a curious new restaurant trend in many major North American cities: the secret supper club.

Sometimes called an underground or closed-door restaurant, these hidden gems of the DIY culinary scene are essentially chef-curated, small-scale social dining experiences typically served out of the privacy of someone's home — outside of local bylaws (but not always).

Marketed primarily by word of mouth or invitation, everything from the dinner's location to the menu isn't revealed until the last minute.

The food tends to skew more towards local fare and, for the quality of dishes being served, a meal will save you a few bucks compared to your average upscale eatery.

It's also something of a liberating experience for chefs who get to put their heart and soul on the plate in a way that many established restaurants just don't allow. There's no pressure from an inflexible owner to stick to a certain style, or budget, and no kowtowing to the dumbed-down tastes of the Yelping masses, more concerned with taking the perfect Instagram shot of their cheese board than actually eating it.

But more importantly perhaps is the sense of community cultivated from bringing together a dozen, or fewer, people in the intimate setting of someone's home to take part in the simple pleasures of breaking bread with your fellow epicurean. All the fun of a friend's dinner party, except the food is actually good.

Unsurprisingly, several such cloak-and-dagger spots have sprouted up in the gastronomy-obsessed environs of Vancouver. There's South African Chef Steve Duke's aptly named No Fixed Address, which caters to "adventurous food lovers that want fine dining but are tired of the generic restaurant scene."

There's the Endless Meal Supper Club in Gastown where comforting, hearty fare is served off a large platter encouraging you to eat as much as your cholesterol-laden heart desires.

Then there's foul-mouthed Chef Todd (who always declines to use his last name. Oh, the mystery!) and his since-closed guerrilla restaurant, 12B, housed in — you guessed it — his apartment. When it was still around, along with a few cuss words, you'd have likely been treated to Todd's unconventional approach to locally inspired cooking. Guests here were given free roam of Todd's home — itself a sight for sore eyes, adorned with boldly coloured art — and are encouraged to bring (and liberally imbibe in) their own booze, choose their own soundtrack for the evening, smoke in the hallways and get as raucous as possible. Vancouver food blogger Diane Thompson even wrote about how one diner tipped the chef with her bra and panties, because Todd's food got her "so hot and bothered." You can't do that in a stuffy Michellin-starred restaurant, now can you?

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