Muddy Eats: Kitchenorium
Experience a real-life Come Dine with Me at home chef Cat Dutton's pop-up restaurant.
Look up any travel guide for the Cuban capital of Havana from Conde Naste Traveller to Lonely Planet and they’ll tell you the best food is to be found at the paladares, unofficial restaurants in private homes. In the UK supper club start-up WeFiFo, set up by West Sussex entrepreneur and co-founder of The Book People, Seni Glaister, is aiming to do something similar by focusing on the “affordable” end of the market.
WeFiFo allows home cooks and professional chefs, like Leamington Spa’s Cat Dutton, to turn their kitchens and living rooms into pop-up restaurants. So, will it do for the dining table what Airbnb has done for the spare room and to the hotel industry? Hosts are not all trained chefs but rather enthusiastic cooks with a passion and love for food and entertaining.
Home chef Cat has been running Kitchenorium for just under 12 months and it really seems to have taken off. As a testament to her culinary skills she made it into the finals of Warwickshire’s Muddy Stilettos Awards 2017 in the Best Restaurant category. I was invited to Cat’s very first Network & Nosh event geared towards self-employed businesses earlier this month. Each event is limited to 16 – the number who can fit around Cat’s dining tables. Kitchenorium currently hosts 5-6 events a month, as well as creating private dining experience for groups of friends, organisations and businesses.
Once you’ve booked a place and paid online via WeFiFo you’ll receive an email confirming the event details, the full address and house rules. It’s all pretty straightforward and informative. I put the address in my Sat Nav and set off, picking up a bottle of Cava on the way (to share as I was driving). Cat lives in a characterful terraced house on a residential street, south of Leamington and the on-street parking was fine. I confess I did feel momentarily apprehensive as I stood on the doorstep, but Cat and partner Joel were extremely welcoming, charming hosts and introduce you to their guests. Before long everyone is nattering away.
At Cat’s house the dress code is casual, the vibe is informal, singles friendly and smoking is permitted outside. As well as our hosts, there were 10 diners including two freelance marketing consultants, a social media expert, an app developer, a personal stylist, a jewellery designer and a stained-glass artist. Most were Leamington-based, a couple of guys had travelled slightly further – Coleshill and Burton Hastings. Quite a few were regulars who had already been to previous Kitchenorium events, so were familiar with the etiquette and ‘boozorium’. We all sat around the table in Cat and Joel’s open-plan kitchen diner. Everyone was very friendly, chatty and smiley. Paper tablecloths and felt-tipped pens are provided, so you can doodle in between courses, or play noughts and crosses with your neighbours to break the ice if need be.
Cat had gone to an enormous amount of trouble, preparing a veritable feast. It was ‘a sharing table’. Dishes included individual Red Pepper & Goat’s Cheese Tarts, Gougeres (Cheese buns made with Choux Pastry), baked Camembert, Potato wedges & stuffed mushrooms, Smoked mackerel pate, Salad Nicoise & Chunky Coleslaw, Dips & Crudites as well as Olives and fresh bread. And for dessert there was a beautiful home-made Hazelnut meringue. Everything looked and tasted absolutely amazing – and a squeeze at only £15 per head.
Cat’s love of cooking began at very young age and as she got older, grew into hosting dinner parties for family and friends. These dinner parties grew bigger and more extravagant, so friends suggested that she turn it into a business. As a result, Cat created, Kitchenorium and began hosting pop-up social dining events while still working full-time in the NHS finance department in Warwick. Cat recently left her job to pursue her business full time. So far, she’s held 42 events and served 270 meals. She said: “Recently we had our first fully booked event, which was free tea & cake on a Sunday afternoon. Initially we held one in June for the Great Get Together in memory of Jo Cox, and now we’re planning to host a similar event every few months – the next one will be December 3. We’ve had great responses to our curry nights, meat-free menus and sharing style events such as the Tapas Tuesdays. We’re getting a lot more interest in private events now as well – in December we’re just doing private events besides the tea & cake afternoon.” It takes the term ‘relaxed dining’ to a whole new level!
The growth of WeFiFo – ‘the affordable supper club’
WeFiFo was in the news this week as it’s now in talks with John Lewis and Waitrose about a collaboration. Jamie Oliver said of the venture: “This could be the largest and most diverse restaurant group in the world without the overheads, grief and risk that goes with it.” Does Cat think it will give restaurants a run for their money, in the same way that Airbnb has the hotel industry? “Attending a WeFiFo event is quite different from going to a traditional restaurant, so I’d say it’s offering an alternative experience, something different that does have the potential to become very popular,” she said. Watch this space…
In October Cat has a Mid-week Meat free (£18) on Wed Oct 4; a Celebration Dinner to mark Kitchenorium’s 1st birthday on Sat Oct 7, Tapas Tuesday (£15) on Tues Oct 10; a Lucky Dip Dinner (£20) with a surprise menu and prizes for all guests on Fri Oct 13 and a fancy-dress Day of the Dead Feast (£30) on Halloween, Tue Oct 31. To view Kitchenorium’s menus go to kitchenorium.com or to book a place, wefifo.com
Cat is also one of the speakers at TEDx Leamington Spa at All Saints Church, Leamington on Sat Nov 18. Tickets are on sale now, tedxleamingtonspa.com This year’s theme is Home.