Stefano ‘Toto’ Dell’Aringa and Silvio Pezzana are the Head Chef and Wine Expert of the London-based Italian Supper Club, which they co-founded in 2011. The mantra that they both hold, and that goes into every aspect of the club, is that a true Italian dinner is not just about the food, but about the feelings and emotions that go along with it. Silvio tells me about everything that goes into running such a concept.
How did you come up with the idea of the Italian Supper Club?
Both Toto and I had different backgrounds. I used to work at the University of the Arts and Toto was an environmental engineer, and we met when we both moved to London. My passion is for wine and his is for cooking, so we decided to combine our passions and build upon the new supper club trend which blew up between 2009 and 2010. We loved this new way of socialising, took part in a few and thought, why don’t we organise a supper club too?
We started the suppers in Toto’s house where he had his own kitchen and all the tools. We put together the classic Italian dinner in the four course format, matched Italian wines to every dish, and started inviting our friends and their friends around, and they would give a voluntary donation to keep it going.
Since then, word of mouth has been vital. Today, the Italian Supper Club is a monthly event which brings thirty or so people. We have big tables where everybody sits up close and enjoys good food and wine. That is the soul and pure essence of the thing; the italianità, the pleasure of having a supper together.
Which elements of Italian hospitality do you bring to your guests?
It’s all about the pleasure of being gathered around the same table and the sociability of sitting down with people you have never met before. Having fresh homemade pasta made by Toto is a romantic touch and for us as Italians, every plate of pasta is reminiscent to a recipe someone gave us or of a particular dinner we have had. It’s the same for the wine, which can bring you back to a wonderful holiday or to a particular get-together.
What makes the Italian Supper Club different from the others?
We had experienced several supper clubs. Some want to impress with theatricality and didn’t care too much about the food, and some supper clubs need you to bring your own bottle of wine, which can be good but if you run out the friend next to you has a horrible wine, then you poison the whole experience with their wine. Also, most of the supper clubs offer the three-course meal format.
We wanted to keep to the true Italian format, a four-course meal and a wine pairing. We select unique wines which stand out. We don’t offer the plain prosecco or Nero d’Avola that many know from UK supermarkets, but instead offer rarer wines, like Sicilian Frappato or Passerina from Marche or Piedmont Freisa or Grignolino. We try to give our guests the opportunity to taste something new.
Why isn’t the idea of a supper club so popular in Italy?
There are lots of supper clubs in Italy but they don’t have that name because they are part of the normal Italian life and they are very spontaneous. When I was in Italy I used to go to dinners at friends’ houses to meet new people, which is the spirit of our supper club.
But in a city like London the need to socialise is higher. Clubbing, going to a cocktail bar or a pub, a yoga class, they don’t have the pure essence a supper club offers by meeting new people around one table. Even when we go to a restaurant you already know the people you are going to have dinner with, so you are rarely meeting new people. There’s nothing better than having people around for a delicious dinner all together.
Which is your ideal dinner?
Probably the one we offer at Italian Supper Club! It is long and slow, has to be made with simple but high quality seasonal products, cooked and served with love. I know that it sounds clichéd but you have to put your heart into cooking. I also have a deep connection with wine because my grandfather was a wine maker and he kept vineyards. For me, dinner can’t be without wine. My ideal dinner has to have a warm soul.
What does Italy mean to you?
Italy means home, but not because London doesn’t. I think that home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling. Italy still means family to us both. Here in London, Toto got married and has a child and I have a partner, but we also have our family back in Italy. We didn’t leave Italy because we didn’t like it, but instead life brought us here, and we have happily been in London for nearly ten years. Besides, it’s just a two hour flight back.
Photo credits: Piero Cruciatti