Queen of the pop-up restaurant in the UK, Kerstin Rodgers – aka 'MsMarmiteLover' for you Twitter fans – launched the first underground restaurant in London with her eponymous supper club.
And since then, when she hosted and served dinner in her own home in 2009, hundreds of in-house resturants have popped up in London and around the UK cooking up culinary delights for their guests. But they're not alone, having Kerstin's book Supper Club: recipes and notes from The Underground Restaurant along with her blog, The English Can Cook, for a helping hand.
Full of witty anecdotes in addition to an artful and intelligent exploration of discoveries from all over the world, the photos of MsMarmite's masterpieces are temptingly tantalising. Certainly, for anyone who loves their food as much as we do at HELLO! Online, it's an eye-opener to the world of organic produce being used in the kitchen.
We catch up with the founder of the supper club scene on her dream dinner guestlist, what vegetables she'll be growing this year – and she even lends us her Valentine's recipe for Coeur a la Creme...
What prompted your idea to open an underground restaurant in London?
I was cheffing at various cafes/restaurants and was frustrated by not being in control. I wanted my own restaurant but just couldn't afford it.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
From the paladares which are home restaurants in Cuba. I'd been toying with the idea for some time but my visit to Cuba convinced me. It's a great way to meet the people of the country, see the interior of their homes, how they live.
What do you find most rewarding about being a host? and the most stressful?
I like curating an event, coming up with a menu and styling it – from napkins, to waitress costumes, to glassware. And cooking for people who pay is always very stressful. Cooking can so easily go wrong.
What's the most ludicrous conversation you've had at your dinner table?
I'm not usually able to sit down because I tend to be too busy in the kitchen. I'm sure there are all sorts of ludicrous conversations going on which sadly I miss. I know at one supper club we had one of the celebrity bookers from I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. She regaled her table with insider celebrity gossip. I wish I'd been at that table.
What qualities make your ideal guest?
I like loud people, people who tell anecdotes and are funny. You don't really want quiet people at a dinner party but, if they are, you want them to be a good audience and laugh a lot.
Which famous faces would make your dream dinner guestlist?
I'd love to have the great and the good, also the talented and the bad: Abi Morgan, who wrote The Hour; Julie Burchill who is a brilliantly controversial columnist; Barack Obama, the most important man in the world; Cheryl Cole just for her lovely accent; Eddie Izzard the cross-dressing comedian and Julian Assange the cyber activist. This one I'd definitely sit down for.
What would your go-to dish be to 'woo' someone over this Valentine's?
Perhaps my Coeur a la Creme? It's simple but luxurious, healthy but naughty. My own aphrodisiac is probably sushi. It's not too heavy so you are not so weighed down you can't go to sleep. Sushi makes you randy!
We've made it past the winter blues, which spring ingredients are you most looking forward to using?
Courgette flowers, but they are more early summer I guess. Rhubarb, artichokes, fresh herbs and asparagus are all gorgeous Spring vegetables.
You're not just a cook, but an avid gardener as well. Any green-finger tips?
It was difficult last year for even the most green-fingered gardener. Nothing grew well except for tomatillos, which is a kind of husk tomato – great for salsas.
No matter how good you are, we are dependent on the weather. This year, try growing something you've never grown before. I'm going to try 'forcing' (manipulating temperature and light for optimum growth) with rhubarb and chicory. It may not work, but I'll learn a lot in the process.
What advice would you give someone thinking about starting up their own supper club?
Buy my book, read my blog, check out your local supper club on my site 'Find a supper club' and then…just do it!. You may not make a lot of money but you will make friends, contacts, improve your cooking and your confidence. You never know, you may have just kick started a small business in food?
Report: Christine Humphrey
You can find Kerstin via Twitter @MsMarmiteLover or on her blog, The English Can Cook (marmitelover.blogspot.com)