You may know Jim Haynes. You might be one of the 130,000 people who've passed through his Paris atelier at one of his Sunday supper club nights over the last 34 years and if you're not, you may well recognise him from the recent After Eight advertising campaign. Although I knew the name and had a vague idea of the reputation of this American living in Paris as the 'Godfather of supper clubs' I was having a good wonder about what to expect as I made my way over to Fernandez & Leluu's supper club in Hackney for a one-off evening held in honour of the man himself. Just from following their twitter feed I already knew that Simon and Uyen (the Fernandez and Leluu respectively that were hosting the evening) had been through a week of peaks of excitement and troughs of panic several times on a daily basis such was the thrill and responsibility of being asked to host an evening for one of their heroes and inspirations for starting their own supper club.
Whatever the various scenarios I might have entertained, they all turned out to be bobbins. Rather than some uber-foodie revelling in the exalted status he'd earned, holding court to the hordes of us that had crammed in to meet him there was just a very genial old guy, amiably chatting away to anyone who said hello and looking vaguely embarrassed at all the fuss. He'd just got off the Eurostar an hour before and was heading back to Paris the next day but you'd have thought from talking to him that he'd just popped round the corner for a quick bite with his closest friends.
He's certainly led an interesting life, spending the 1960s swinging through Edinburgh, London and Amsterdam getting involved with starting up the Edinburgh Festival and various underground/alternative theatre groups and newspapers, before ending up in Paris as a professor of Media Studies and Sexual Politics for the next 30 years, where he started up his famous Sunday night supper clubs. The way he talks about his life and tells the stories, he gives the impression that a lot of things basically just happened to him - the university asked him to join them as a professor and he could teach whatever he wanted, he came up with media studies and sexual politics and they said fine, see you next term. His supper club started up because a friend of a friend that he was putting up as a favour insisted on cooking dinner one Sunday night, as a thankyou for his hospitality. It was such a success that everyone insisted on doing it again the next week, word got round and it all just snowballed.
These are obviously all well-polished stories that Jim must have told countless times now, but when you meet him and spend some time talking to him you can really believe that things like this would just happen to him. He has a real gift for putting people at ease, a relaxed charm and a genuine interest in people that makes him a pleasure to talk with whether it's just the two of you or he's entertaining a whole room full of people, and it becomes easy to see how, for instance, a supper club would just spontaneously happen around him. His legendary supper club nights aren't much about the food, they're about the people and the good times. The food itself is a pretty random pot-luck depending on who Jim's got cooking for him that week - it's served buffet style, standing up so that everyone can properly mingle and meet everyone else, I'm sure it's more than just an afterthought but it's there to help get the party going and get people together, it's not the main reason for being there. His supper club cookbook is simply called "Throw a Great Party", it's not even written by Jim, it's written by 3 ladies who were inspired enough by his supper club evenings to want to put it together.
The food laid on by Simon and Uyen certainly wasn't an afterthought and they didn't make things easy for themselves - individual plates each holding an ambitious selection of starters were handed round by Uyen and her crack waitressing squad, no mean feat in itself given how many of us there were and how packed and chaotic the room was (we were standing as we ate, doing the evening Jim-style). As you've probably noticed by now I seem to have hit the video record button on my phone in my feeble attempt at snapping a quick pic of the starters, but hey ho.
The highlights for me were a wonderfully fresh tasting, packed-to-bursting summer roll and a delicious meaty terrine. My attempt at getting a pic of the main course failed even harder but for the record it was generous cuts of tender tasty beef with some dinky baked potato and mushrooms, all really well done and again all individually plated and brought round to us all as we stood drinking and gossiping. If I remember correctly there was also a very lively pudding as well as a hard-working barman knocking out vast quantities of assorted cocktails and a garden full of wine and beer.
The place really was packed out and with so many new people to meet and old acquaintances to catch up with a great evening was had by everyone there, Simon and Uyen were wonderful hosts and I think they would happily have kept the party going till the sun came up but the numbers dwindled as the TfL witching hour approached and eventually even those of us lucky enough to live nearby decided to stagger off into the night. I like to think Jim had a small, proud little smile on his mouth as he said his goodbyes, heading off to his hotel for the night and leaving us to carry on a party that he started all those years ago in Paris.
Special thanks to Qype and After Eight for organising the evening.
There are lots of other blog posts about the evening, in particular LondonEater and London Foodie have a lot of photos, Tamarind & Thyme and A Rather Unusual Chinaman have proper descriptions of the food and Billy's Booze Blog has a frighteningly comprehensive account of all the drinks we drank.
Fernandez & Leluu's blog has their own write up of the evening, as well as details of all their forthcoming supper club nights.