I’ve always been a little bit fascinated by – and scared of – the supper club concept. The main idea – that you share a meal cooked by a stranger in their house with a bunch of people you’ve never met – is both the main attraction and also the main deterrent. I love it when the internet helps to hook me up with like-minded folk I otherwise might never have met. However, my socially anxious side can’t help playing out possible disastrous scenarios. Will it be pretentious? What if I get stuck next to a braying bore? Is it going to turn out to be a bad episode of that British reality TV show Come Dine With Me – known here in the Czech Republic as Prostřeno?
When culinary themed start-up Plate4me, a website which connects prospective hosts with adventurous diners, got in touch with Expats.cz, it seemed I would get my chance to discover what a night out at a pop-up supper club is really all about.
Of course, Prague has its own pop-up restaurant, Forbidden Taste, but when it comes to the supper club scene that’s exploded in cities like London and New York, well, there’s not so much comparable happening here. There’s the odd bytová restaurace like Na Fare but it seems on the whole, Czechs are reticent about inviting total strangers into their homes and cooking them dinner.
That said, the supper club concept is clearly going global. A number of websites dedicated to connecting hosts with potential guests have launched recently such as EatWith which has events in over 20 countries including Poland and Russia – but alas, not the Czech Republic. A quick search for Prague on similar peer-to-peer site Eat My World scored no results.
However, budding Gordon Ramseys and Nigella Lawsons need not despair: the Plate4me team has spotted a gap in the alternative dining market and has just kicked off in Warsaw, Budapest, Prague and Brno.
I was invited along to an inaugural Plate4me event here in the Czech capital – and got a taste of what it might be like to ring a stranger’s doorbell with nervous anticipation, all set for a blind dinner date. I’d already received an email from host Robert warning me not to get too dressed up as “we’ll be painting”. I wondered whether I should don overalls.
Of course, what’s on your plate shouldn’t be a surprise as menus are posted online so potential guests know in advance exactly what’s being cooked for them. I was treated to what every contestant of Czech reality TV show Prostřeno seems to crave: traditional Czech fare, in this case chicken in a creamy beer sauce (with a few handpicked mushrooms) and bread dumplings. There was also a soup course – what Czech feast would be complete without it? – in this case, made from fresh Hoikkado pumpkin, and a complimentary Pilsner.
The cost – 12 euro or just over 300 CZK – seemed fair for what we received (although thriftier readers may disagree). Each host decides what to charge – Plate4me naturally takes a percentage of the revenue – so it’s up to the individual home chef whether they plan to make a profit or simply want to cover their expenses.
It’s true that diners in an ordinary restaurant do not expect to socialize with others and that sometimes, rather than remain in our isolated bubbles of personal space, it would be nice to strike up a conversation without the fear of intruding. I enjoyed exchanging anecdotes with fellow guests Robert and Dominika, while helping to paint a canvas which Robert promises he’ll use to brighten up his rather bare walls. Our artistic collaboration certainly broke the ice.
What about the food? Well, I’m happy to report it was decent: neither the sauce or the dumplings were too heavy and the flavor of beer was subtle not overpowering. The evening sped past and I went home just after midnight with a bag of those foraged mushrooms and an overall positive impression.
If you’re considering signing up to be a Plate4Me host, you needn’t have Michelin star chef skills: just a desire to share your culinary skills with others and a gift for making them feel welcome. Should your own apartment be the size of a shoebox, no problem: borrow a friend’s for the evening. And your menu does not need to consist of local food or even food at all: one prospective Prague host will be serving up sushi while another will be offering beer tasting in his burgeoning microbrewery. “If someone is a great joke teller but an average cook, that’s fine – just as long as the evening measures up to what the host has promised to provide,” says project founder, Adam Chazanow.
“What makes a restaurant really special,” Chazanow continues, “is the connection with the owners. You can serve great food but if that personal touch is lacking, the experience just isn’t the same.”
I’m inclined to agree.
For visitors to Prague, Plate4me is a way of avoiding the soul-destroying experience of eating in a cookie-cutter tourist trap restaurant; for expats, it’s a way of crossing paths with like-minded folk and perhaps even making new friends. Whether Czechs will willingly jump on the supper club bandwagon is yet to be seen, but I for one will be casting an eye over the Plate4me website over the coming months to see what’s on the menu.
Ready to try out a dinner blind date?