Sunday 29 September 2013

WELCOME TO WENDY’S HOUSE! Vegetarian Supper Club's in Manchester


Experience a private supper club of exquisite vegetarian food – courtesy of vegetarian master chef, Wendy Swetnam

What does it take to be an accomplished vegetarian chef whose food can stand out in a world dominated by male celebrity chefs – especially those with huge egos and a strong leaning towards carnivorous offerings?  Read on and you’ll find out about one of Manchester’s superb small giants of cuisine, whose skills and capabilities could topple many a Goliath of celebrity carnivore cooking!

Wendy Swetnam has a growing niche business running extremely popular sell-out supper clubs in the Manchester area and also supplying bespoke vegetarian and vegan catering services and private functions – all founded on a passion for vegetarian food that she has enjoyed since early childhood, when she decided to become a vegetarian!

A childhood ambition realized

“I knew I wanted to be a chef when I was ten years old,” says Wendy. “So when I was in my early teens, I wrote to the Vegetarian Society to ask about vegetarian specific cookery courses. They recommended the Cordon Vert Diploma, taught at the Vegetarian Society HQ and cookery school in Altrincham and also an organisation called Ploughshares in Glastonbury, who ran one-to-one special diet cuisine modules covering subjects such as sauces and dressings, vegetarian Christmas food and how to make fresh tofu.” Having gained experience and qualifications in vegetarian cooking, Wendy found work experience at the Salamander vegan restaurant in Nottingham. She became Kitchen Manager of Nottingham’s vegetarian Alley Café Bar when she was just 19, and worked for one of Manchester’s early pioneer whole-food deli restaurants, The 8th Day.

Learning in Mexico, Guatemala and Cuba

Other invaluable sources of cooking experience resulted from a three-month trip through Mexico, Guatemala and Cuba. “I did a Mexican cookery course in Oaxaca, Mexico,” recalls Wendy.  “We went to a market to buy herbs, chillies and other great local ingredients, and then we made fresh tortillas, ‘Mole’ and Salsa. We also cooked cactus, which you can use like a green bean, finely sliced and used in stews. It was fascinating to use such an unusual ingredient. We ate street food all the time because we were on a budget – and actually, street food was really memorable - and far nicer than food we ate in restaurants.” 

Experience at a top London veggie venue

“I wanted to learn about drinks as well as food, so I took a job at the Living Room  ” says Wendy, “I worked in the cocktail bar, where I learned to mix classic and contempory cocktails and match wine with food. I also worked at Vanilla Black  in London, which is one of only two vegetarian restaurants in the UK to be recommended in the Michelin Guide. The cuisine is refreshingly different and very interesting, modern and experimental, but with a firm grounding in classics.” Wendy ran the mains section, cooking amongst other plates, the Vanilla Black Signature dish – double-baked Ribblesdale cheese pudding with smoked potato croquet, pineapple pickle and poached duck egg. 

Working in Denmark

“Working as a Stagier at Noma, in Copenhagen, Denmark  was absolutely mid blowing,” says Wendy. “Noma is not a vegetarian restaurant but is renowned for it’s high regard for vegetables and herbs, has two Michelin Stars and in 2012 was voted (for the third year running) as the very best of the world’s best 50 restaurants. I did two months as a Stagier at Noma, which has an experimental development kitchen and is renowned for foraging and exquisite local culinary produce. Some of the best chefs in the world spend time at Noma as Stagiers in order to learn from other great chefs and I was very lucky to gain invaluable experience there.” Wendy then became Head Chef at 1847, which is a celebrated vegetarian restaurant in Manchester. “When I started as Head Chef at 1847, I worked with the owner to change the business from a coffee shop and deli in to a vegetarian restaurant” she remembers. “After little more than a year we opened a second branch in Chorlton. I left 1847 after two years of running the kitchen and devising the menus – and then, after Christmas 2012, I set up my own vegetarian catering company.”

Loving the social side of cooking

Wendy has handled festival catering and really loves meeting the customers: “When I was working at Noma, it was a great feature of the restaurant that the chefs served the customers personally, and had the chance to meet and talk to them. Doing catering and supper clubs is a natural extension of that social aspect of cooking.” Wendy’s supper club, ‘Wendy’s House’ includes Friday and Saturday night 4 course feasts and a regular Monday night Mexican street food affair drawing on her culinary experiences in Mexico. “Supper Clubs have been happening all over the world for years and are now taking off in the UK,” says Wendy,” and for me, they’re the most memorable and enjoyable dining-out experiences.  Quite a few of my guests have been Twitter users who invited their friends to my ‘Mexico Monday’ night at my supper club.” Other supper club guests met at The Hungry Gecko  in nearby Chorlton where they talked about Wendy’s fabled Gin & Tonic cake that she had invented whilst Head Chef at 1847!

An inspired Supper Club Menu

Here’s an example of what Wendy recently served up at one of her amazingly successful supper clubs:
  • Welcome drink - Hibiscus Fizz (hibiscus flowers in agave syrup topped up with sparkling wine) 
  • Nibbles - totopos (corn tortilla chips) with guacamole, salsa, sour cream – simple, refreshing and flavorsome.
  • Refreshment - cucumber and  jalapeño  agua fresca and hibiscus agua fresca (fresh water) – perfect with Mexican cuisine.
  • Starter - blue corn tostada with broad-bean and feta - simple and really delicious, with big, bold flavours.
  • Main - molletes (refried beans and cheese on toast), mushroom quesadillas, green rice, esquites (sweetcorn broth flavored with the Mexican herb epazote), black beans and tomato and pineapple salad.  A deceptively simple, but quite outstanding dish.
  • Dessert - mango in tequila, agave and chili syrup with cashew praline ice cream - outstanding, and a vegan alternative prepared for another guest was equally stunning.  
  • To finish - Mexican hot chocolate.  A fine palate cleanser and a perfect way to end the meal   

You’ll find the food and the social side of Wendy’s Mexican Supper Club to be memorable and full of stunning taste experiences – and there really is no better way of spending a Monday evening! Wendy’s guests are always friendly, warm and entertaining – so this genre of eating out truly deserves serious consideration. The author of this article has tried several notable amateur supper club chefs - but, in his opinion, to have experienced such an experienced vegetarian chef in such an intimate setting has taken the supper club concept to an entirely new and exciting level – and whilst it’s great to go with a group of friends, it’s probably even more fun to go on your own!

you can follow Wendy on Twitter; @WendySwetnam 
Facebook;  or the regularly updated internet site:

It was a pleasure to dine at Wendy's and I have enjoyed posting this review:  I have been back a few times, and highly reccomend a visit: You can follow my Twitter feed; @GreedyGuzzler Food is my passion and it is all about the beautiful people you meet on the journey:  John Perry

No comments:

Post a Comment