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November 02, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Food & Drink: Your Supper Club Food & Drink: Your Supper Club (November 02, 2005)

Local chefs shop, dice and slice the food, but you do the cooking

Unless you're a college kid living on cereal or a model existing on lettuce leaves, most of us have a problem that won't go away ... what to fix for dinner.

When you can't stand the idea of shopping for and preparing another meal, there are solutions ...eating out, waiting in line for take-out, buying frozen dinners by the dozen, even hiring a personal chef.

Three local residents have come up with a new concept in meal service and are calling it Your Supper Club.

Chefs Lucinda Tatman, Joel Avilla and Barbara Harvie are offering sessions at the Royal Hodge Masonic Center in Menlo Park where they do the menu planning, grocery shopping, slicing, dicing and cleanup.

Customers, who have pre-ordered their meal choices, come in and assemble ingredients for 10 different meals to take home, mostly to freeze for later.

When I stopped by the Masonic Center two weeks ago, about a dozen clients were busy assembling ingredients for meals. The three chefs, dressed in their whites, helped to distribute items or hovered to answer questions.

Each patron received a packet that included protein tickets to be traded for chicken, fish, beef, etc.; wine suggestions for the entrees; and a sheet with cooking directions for all the entrees.

Instructions were explicit: "Put on the apron provided and put on rubber gloves if you wish." Next step: "Pick up proteins, then proceed to the recipe station where that protein is featured."

At separate tables, the ingredients for each dish were assembled. Each table sported a sign listing the ingredients, such as: Asian orange chicken ( 2 chicken breasts): 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 tablespoon orange juice concentrate, etc. The sign also listed a side dish, which had already been prepared, to be picked up at the counter.

Containers and labels with freezing and cooking instructions were also on the tables.

The recipes were sophisticated and varied. They included Portuguese chicken with rice, sausage and olives; macadamia-crusted whitefish with wasabi aioli and parsnip puree; Spanish tri tip; pomegranate chicken thighs with sweet potatoes, squash and chard; even a "kid-friendly mac & cheese."

Jan and Mike Avilla of Portola Valley, whose son, Joel, is one of the chefs, were making 10 meals for four. Ms. Avilla was assembling Asian orange chicken, while her husband put together ingredients for Portuguese chicken.

Kate Tufano of Palo Alto was stocking up on the Mexican meat loaf. This was her second session and she said she loved the food. "Last month's pork tenderloin roulade was to die for!"

Ms. Tufano, a grad student, said, "The Supper Club works for me because I still have the creativity." She's bringing a vegetarian friend in November when a number of meatless dishes (linguini with onion confit; gorgonzola and walnuts; grilled fall vegetables & tofu; vegetarian shepherd's pie; roasted sweet potatoes with baked tofu; and stuffed portobello mushrooms) will be featured.

Gretchen Flanagan of Menlo Park is a pediatric dietician who says the big complaint she hears from parents is, with all their children's activities, there isn't time to prepare proper meals. "This (the Supper Club) would help bring the family back to the dinner table."

Ms. Flanagan was putting together pomegranate chicken, Asian chicken, apricot glazed pork chops and baked penne for her husband, Mike, and their two children.

Debbie McClelland, brought along her daughter, Grace, to help with the meals while dad, Paul McClelland, waited to pack up the goodies in a cooler.

Most of the participants finished their task in under two hours. Colleen Ney was one of the last to go. "I'm so busy I was a half hour late," she said, adding it was her first time at the Supper Club.
About the chefs

Lucinda Tatman, Barbara Harvie and Joel Avilla are all graduates of the Cordon Bleu course at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Ms. Tatman and Mr. Avilla just graduated; Ms. Harvie graduated a year ago. The two women are Palo Alto neighbors.

All three had earlier careers. As part of their culinary training, each served an apprenticeship. Ms. Tatman worked with Jesse Cool, owner of three organic restaurants. Ms. Harvie apprenticed with Figueroa Farms, an olive oil producer, in Santa Barbara County. Mr. Avilla apprenticed at Viognier restaurant in San Mateo, working with executive chef Scott Giambastiani.

Wanting to find their niche in the food industry, the trio came up with the Supper Club concept, which they launched September 20.

"The first night we had four people," says Ms. Tatman.

She acknowledges that similar concepts are out there but says: "We offer full entrees. Not every place does a complete meal. All our sides are carefully thought out."

To decide the next month's menu, the chefs do research on their own, then have several meetings to iron out details.

"We're presenting comfortable food with an international flair," says Mr. Avilla.

** To go. For those who don't have the time or interest in assemble-it-yourself sessions, there is Supper Club to Go, where you pick up already packaged dinners. ** When, where. The next "to go" session will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, November 8. The next assemble-it-yourself session will begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday, November 15. All sessions are held at Royal Hodge Masonic Center at 651 Roble Ave. (behind Cook's Seafood) in Menlo Park. ** What it costs. Ten dinners of four servings each cost $300. A half order of 10 dinners of two servings is $150. The ready-to-go dinners are $175 for ten dinners of two servings. ** More info. Your Supper Club currently offers four sessions a month. Menu choices change monthly and can be viewed at For more information, call 424-1953.
Trying it at home

I prepared the Asian orange chicken with fried rice with peas and carrots at home. The instructions were explicit: "Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Roast chicken in center rack of oven for 30 to 35 minutes, basting four times with sauce. Place under broiler for final two minutes until browned."

I thought 500 degrees might be too high, but followed instructions. The breast was nicely browned, not overcooked. I skipped the two minutes under the broiler.

The bone-in, skin-on chicken breast was juicy with a fruity spicy flavor. The fried rice tasted better after adding a dash of soy sauce. Portions were generous.

Would I try it again? Yes.

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