Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Toque & Dagger

In another life, I would be a spy. Sneaking around, knowing everyone’s secrets, plotting and planning, all that seductive subterfuge adding a current of danger to the daily routine.

Sadly, I am in this life and I am not a spy. I do get my mission impossible on, however, when it comes to Gourmet Picnic Supper Club. The GPS (get it?) crew posts an event on social media, parcels out a few details, you follow the digital breadcrumbs, and eventually the location is revealed. It’s all very underground cool.

Walking down the Olde North street toward the address at the appointed hour, I dart behind trees and follow the scent of baked goods.

Underground dining clubs are like the mixtapes of food—places were chefs, line cooks, and obsessive culinary nerds, find spaces for creativity and recipe risk-taking. All around the city, at pop-ups, monthly gatherings, and fly-by-night seatings, restaurant line jockeys are flexing their dream-meal muscles, and those in the know, those tipped off to this growing local food adventuring, are the grateful recipients of this out-of-the-takeout-box experience.

Gourmet Picnic Supper Club has been flirting with foodies since autumn of 2014.  Holding the monthly down-low gatherings in a residence in the Olde North are hosts Jake Holler, Adele Ardrey, and Sara Dixon, along with Dough Mama baker Perrie Wilkof, are creating an atmosphere where cooking professionals can express themselves and guests can experience fine dining without having to iron a suit or drop a paycheck.

There are no white tablecloths or leather seats, no whispering or heavy crystal; instead, there are charmingly mismatched nifty thrifty dinnerware, passionate discussion and dissection of the meal, and fast friends being made at community tables.

“I like to think from the bottom up, a grassroots level,” said Holler. “I love cooking and bringing people together in my house.” Holler has worked in various kitchens and finds joy in completing diner rush food tasks; yet, there was always a disconnect between his plating and those enjoying the plates.

“Here, chefs can meet everyone—we can showcase the chef, have them come out to applause, and be proud.

The food is only half the undertaking—the space is the other piece. Co-founder Ardrey directs the seating machinations and décor. “It’s a lot of work,” she said. “How am I going to now fit 25 people in a small house?” She adores the job, though. “When I was young, my mom was a waitress at Casa Nueva in Athens, and I remember going in and serving when I was five years old—I loved it.” Most of the event accouterments come from thrift stores, 50-percent-off day at Ohio Thrift, and Ardrey’s collection of fabric. “I neurotically collect beautiful fabric, so that becomes the tablecloths.” For her, the most satisfying time is after the main course has been served when she can sit back and watch the great memories unfolding before her.

Looking forward to the summer, Gourmet Picnic will have a full garden to pillage, and maybe an aquaponic system where the group will raise their own fish.

“Our primary mission is to bring good food, consciously sourced, to younger people for whom going out to a nice restaurant is a rare occasion—a low price point with a high food quality.” The groups secondary mission is the creation of community.

“We’ll keep doing it as long as it’s fun,” Holler said. With guest-starring turns from the likes of Challah Truck’s Catie Randazzo, The Kitchen’s Donte Allen, and Alana’s Jack Dale Bennet Jr., this will be a never-ending mission, and for food spies like us, that’s a secret we’re okay keeping.

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