Food Fight

Food Fight: Battle Supper Club

Other cities have had them for years, but -- as with many concepts -- Houston is a bit behind the curve. We're talking about chef-driven, intimate, fiercely modern, multi-course dinners that allow a culinary wild man (or woman) to experiment on a willing audience, while at the same time showcasing new techniques or ingredients.

Houston's first series of these modern supper clubs had a short existence: Ad Hoc, a dinner series hosted by DiverseWorks in the summer of 2008 at a now-demolished Victorian home on Alabama and Alameda, which had been partially taken over by graffiti artists Aerosol Warfare. The dinners were conceived primarily as supper clubs for artists, journalists and other such folk to convene. David Grossman, formerly of Gravitas and now at Branch Water Tavern, was the chef at these $50-per-person dinners, but food wasn't necessarily the main star.

Around that same time, Randy Rucker began hosting his long-running and popular tenacity supper clubs. Formerly the chef at Rainbow Lodge and chef-owner at the short-lived but impactful laidback manor, Rucker started tenacity as an offshoot of private dinners that he was catering. In a June 2008 interview, Rucker said that the thing he enjoyed most about throwing these private dinners was "...the personal level. The ability to really know where the food is coming from. Not to say that this project doesn't have responsibilities, but operating a full-service restaurant for lunch and dinner with full staffing is an unbelievable task."

These supper clubs ran anywhere from $50 to $75 per person and were announced on Rucker's blog, feeding curiosity. Reservations always went quickly -- no dinner could really accomodate more than 20 hungry people at at time. But times change, and so did tenacity.

These days, Rucker no longer hosts the supper clubs in his own home, but in facilities with commercial kitchens and more room. And what's more, there's a new game in town: Reality Dinners, hosted by Chef L.J. Wiley at up-and-coming Mexican restaurant Yelapa. So how are things shaking out for the supper club scene now that there's competition?

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Katharine Shilcutt