The Secret Songwriter Suppers
By Rain Perry
As with so many things, it started with Elvis. A couple of years ago, my husband and I took a road trip from New Orleans up Highway 61 past the Crossroads to Memphis. After an essential pilgrimage to Sun Records (where I stood on the hallowed masking-taped X where Elvis belted “That’s Alright, Mama”), we paid our respects at Graceland. If you haven’t been, I urge you to go. It’s chintzy and tacky but also charmingly small compared to rock star homes of today. Elvis had next-door neighbors! It’s very interesting. Anyway, in the gift shop I had to buy a copy of the official Graceland cookbook. It’s as over-the-top as you might imagine. It’s got the famous fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches and a fruit salad that somehow manages to incorporate cottage cheese, sour cream, coconut, marshmallows and mayonnaise.
Then I read an article about Anti-Restaurants, aka Guestaurants, aka Secret Supper Clubs. Apparently, it’s quite the thing: Chefs, or just regular people who love to cook, host paid dinner parties at their homes. Sometimes the dinners are more cloak-anddagger, with secret maps that lead to clandestine locations. Curious diners seek out culinary adventure; the chance to eat good food in unusual places and socialize with people they might otherwise never meet.
“I could do that,” I thought. So I did! I sent out an email to my local Ojai mailing list inviting people to “A Dinner Fit for a King.” We would dine Elvis-style, then enjoy a showing of Viva Las Vegas under the stars.
Here is the menu I planned:
Blue Hawaii Jell-O Shots & Peppery Walnuts
An Amuse Bouche of Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich Bites
Small Homegrown Fried Green Tomato on Sulphur Mountain
CSA Greens with Buttermilk Dressing
Meatloaf with Bacon
Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows and Pecans
Southern Green Beans with Bacon
Tennessee Angel Biscuits
Pepsi (Elvis’ favorite) or Olympia Beer (for his buddies) and for dessert…Pecan Pie with fresh whipped cream Bowls of Amphetamine and Phenobarbital (Altoids and Hot Tamales)
My husband said, “Let me get this straight. You have invited people to come pay to eat meatloaf in our guest house?” Hmm, I thought. This might not actually work. But to my delight, people came! The room was packed with 20 happy diners.
After that first one, I started thinking about it again. In addition to cooking on a theme, I also enjoy putting together music on a theme.
(I am, incidentally, the Queen of the Mix Tape. Any topic, I can make
you a mix. Songs About Dogs? Sure. Songs About Shooting My Baby
Down? Yep. Songs About Leaving My Hometown for the Big City?
Uh huh. Songs About How the Big City Isn’t What I Imagined It Would Be Back in My Small Town? No problem.)
If I was going to go to the effort of gathering a random group of people and cooking for them, what about making it into a chance to sing a few songs I love but would never usually sing? And what if I planned to perform with a different musician every time, for variety and fun? And what about using the event to raise money for my next album? And what if I recorded the shows and released live tracks on iTunes as the Secret Supper Sessions? And so the Secret Suppers evolved. A few days before Halloween, I hosted Secret Songwriter Supper: Spooky. Here’s the menu:
Black Dahlia cocktails
Hors D’Oeuvre Platter of Darkness
Pumpkin Soup (from Boccali’s Haunted Pumpkin Patch) with a
garnish of Floating Eyeballs
Ghost of Monte Cristo Sandwiches
Freshly Chopped Ladyfingers with Clotted Cream
As we were serving, I turned to my friend and spur-of-the moment kitchen assistant Sasha Heslip and said “No one’s eating very many of the eyeballs.” She responded, “That could be because they’re disgusting.” Oh, right. That was the point. (But they were delicious! Buffalo Mozzarella balls with red food coloring veins and green pumpkin seed irises.)
My musical guest for the evening was Mr. J. B. White of the Household Gods. We sang a ghoulish selection of songs, including Concrete Blonde’s “Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man,” John Prine’s “Daddy’s Little Pumpkin” and a medley of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Anabel Lee” and Dan Hicks’ “I Scare Myself.” It was really fun! However, doing the Halloween show a couple of days before Halloween does not lend itself to releasing timely Halloween songs on iTunes. I will save the Spooky tracks for next year and release them then.
So now these Suppers are a regular thing on the third Friday of every month. By the time this article runs, I will have hosted Secret Songwriter Supper: Merry. J. B. White will have been the musical guest once again (because he loves Christmas songs), and we will have eaten a feast with foods from all the major winter holidays.
I will have sent guests home with a little loaf of Claud Mann’s Edible Fruitcake (which I’ve made before, and I’m telling you it will change your mind about fruitcake). And, if all goes according to plan, I will also have released a little live EP, just in time for Christmas. Looking ahead to 2012, I found a website that lists every holiday from International Fake Mustache Day to National Accordion Awareness Month. On January 20 my musical compatriot is going to be Julie Christensen. I have no idea yet what I’m going to cook, but the January holiday that seemed to lend itself to the most interesting musical selections was Hunt for Happiness Week. There are plenty of songs about that.
On February 24th, I’ll be inviting bluegrass mandolinist extraordinaire Tom Corbett to perform with me at an Academy Awards-themed dinner. All the food will be inspired by the nominated films and we will see which themes from movies work in a bluegrass format. I don’t know about March yet, but the April dinner falls on 4/20, which is both “National Pot Smokers Day” and “National Husband Appreciation Day.” Since my husband volunteers with Search and Rescue, we will probably focus on the latter. April 20th also falls during National Paperboard Packaging Week though, so it’s going to be tough to choose.” If you are curious about the Anti-Restaurant movement, just Google.
There are lots of them all over the country and it’s something to try. And if you’d like to come to one of mine, visit rainperry.com and join the mailing list. We’re having fun!
Rain Perry is an award-winning songwriter and author of the autobiographical play Cinderblock Bookshelves: A Guide for Children of Fame-Obsessed Bohemian Nomads. She divides her time between parenting and the lucrative world of independent folk music. She is grateful to her late father, John, for instilling in her his ardent love of cooking.