The Supper Club Is Far from Over
New York City's Adá Supper Club is celebrating Black and female expression with multi-course meals delivered to your home.
For a month or so, Adá Supper Club was one of the hottest places to eat in New York. It still is, though you can no longer go there.
In February, founder Nkem Oghedo launched a series of intimate, multi-course dinners spotlighting Black and female chefs. But in March, when the pandemic shut down in-person dining, she had to regroup. Oghedo, who is also the chief of staff at a health startup, wanted to sustain the Adá concept in the absence of communal dining.
"There was definitely a time at the beginning of lockdown that was for reflection and rest, and that time was really important for me," she said. "I had to clarify my mission. To me, it was really about Black and female expression."
Social media helped. She filled the Adá Supper Club Instagram account with images "of joyful Black people and quotes from Black food folks about what brings them joy at a time like this."
And after a few months of regrouping, that expression returned to cooking. In August, Oghedo launched A Night In, a series of dinners cooked by a rotating roster of chefs that puts the fine-dining experience into boxes and brings it to your home.
A recent dinner featured the cooking of chef Cybille St. Aude, who prepared a three-course "journey inspired by the energies and spirits of Ayiti." The meal, packed lovingly into small packages, included luscious steamer clams and epis butter, toasted Haitian hard dough bread, braised goat, molasses ginger cake, and a lavender mocktail with sugar cane syrup.
On one of the nights St. Aude was cooking, I ordered the feast (for $85) and marveled at how well everything traveled—even the lusciously tender clams, which plumped up as I drenched them in their buttery, herbaceous broth.
When I unpacked the dinner and arranged everything on my prettiest special-occasion plates, my TV room slash dining room slash office transformed into a warm, elegant, and singular space. I felt like I had finally escaped quarantine, if just for a few hours. The food, a rich culinary exploration of Haiti, was thoughtful and joyous.
It's no coincidence that this kind of dining experience occurred outside of the traditional restaurant space.
"The whole point of the supper club is to empower and create space for chefs to do their thing," said Oghedo. "All of these chefs were in the restaurant industry at one point and left it for one reason or another. You see a similar thing with Black women in corporate America."
Many of the chefs who have cooked for Adá and A Night In consciously developed their crafts outside of the restaurant industry, as private chefs or caterers. Oghedo compares it to her experience as a chemical engineering major at Yale University, and then as a consultant, and then as a student at Harvard Business School.
"I was always one of the few Black people, one of the few women, and one of the few Black women," she said. "You're simultaneously exceptionalized while at the same time pigeonholed, erased, and silenced in overt and subtle ways. It never ceased to amaze me how much this experience is found in so many other industries."
She found it to be especially egregious in fine-dining. So, she started her own thing.
"A poignant truth is that the jobs that were accessible to us in this country's history were in the kitchen," she said. "In a lot of ways, Black Americans have really defined America's culinary traditions. Once you turn it into something that’s elite and profitable and celebrated, both women and Black people are erased from the conversation."
Oghedo's goal with Adá was to bring foods that are typically excluded from fine-dining spaces, often of the African diaspora, to the center.
"I love a good mom and pop," she said. "I'm Nigerian-American; I grew up eating catered food from someone's auntie. But we deserve to be included in the full range of culinary expression, from the mom and pops to the high-end, fine-dining experiences."