With the help of social media, chef Cat Dutton has opened the doors to her terraced home and serves restaurant standard food from her kitchen table.
Two years ago, looking for an outlet to channel her passion for cooking, Dutton laid the table for her first kitchen table supper club, affectionately known as Kitchenorium. Harnessing the power of social media and engaging with a niche website, Dutton was able to drum up custom for a first night sell-out.
“After nine years working in finance for the NHS, I knew I wanted to do something else” says Dutton, speaking from her home and supper club venue in Leamington Spa, Warwicks.
A new idea
“People travel from up to a 25 mile radius to visit us, “says Dutton “we get a good mix of familiar faces and also people who are new to the club.” Dutton laughs as she explains an early hurdle of familiarising people with the concept of a supper club. “Initially people were confused about what goes on at a supper club. One of our early guests told us how they’d left our contact details with their next of kin in case they weren’t seen. I think they thought we were some kind of swingers club – I swiftly reassured them we aren’t!”
Dutton describes the supper club concept as an opportunity for her guests to meet new people, “We have a welcome board in the hall where we list the names of our guests. It’s a personal touch for people to feel at home on arrival.”
Mainly self-taught, Dutton love of food began when she was small and she recalls how she was drawn to the kitchen from an early age. Dutton spent time at the prestigious Ashburton cookery school, where she honed her techniques which equipped her with the skills to take her passion to a larger audience.
“One of my early jobs,” recalls Dutton “was running a staff canteen on an industrial estate and providing lunch every day for up to 20 people.” This experience led her to cook at home for extended gatherings. “I cooked for my friends and the dinner parties became bigger,” says Dutton. “In fact, it was my friends who gave me the idea of cooking for a living and hosting supper clubs.”
A cook’s kitchen
Ditching her day job in 2016, Dutton set up Kitchenorium, catering for up to 16 people at a time. “It was my partner, Joel who came up with the name,” says Dutton. “As the kitchen began to gradually take over the entire of the ground floor, he coined the phrase and it stuck”. Referring to her kitchen as a ‘cook’s kitchen’, Dutton has a six burner hob, a double oven, stainless steel counters and several fridges. “I invested in a warming cabinet when I started,” says Dutton “and it helps service to run smoothly.”
Describing the ethos behind her food, Dutton says she likes to cook Mediterranean style dishes, from scratch and with authentic ingredients. “I love to serve sharing plates,” says Dutton, “it’s an informal way of helping people engage as they pass the plates to one another.”
A crucial ingredient in the success of Dutton’s venture has been the role of social media to both network and market. Dutton has her own website and uses an online hub to sell tickets. “We use WeFIFO to sell our tickets and they also provide our insurance,” says Dutton.
Dutton’s flair for social media culminated in a TEDex talk last year. “I found out about it at a meeting held in our local pub,” says Dutton. “The theme was on the subject of home and I immediately knew this was for me.” Dutton describes how she raced home, awoke her partner to film her pitch and dispatched the video straight away, “before I lost my nerve.” Dutton went on to secure her slot and filmed a talk on the subject of how to turn your home into a private restaurant. The film was shown to hundreds of people at the subsequent TEDex event and has since been viewed over two and a half thousand times on line.
Dutton has shown that if you have enough drive to channel your ambition, the supper club format is an immediate and affordable way in to kick start a culinary career. With the advent of social media to spread the word far and wide, anything is possible and the future is looking bright for this ambitious, stay-at-home chef.
AFTERS, a dozen quick fire questions
– who inspired you to become a chef? my first boss who ran the local pub where I had a Saturday job as a teenager.
– what did you have for dinner last night?
chicken with salad & sweet potato wedges .
don’t follow sports.
Diana Henry, Crazy Water Pickled Lemons.
difficult to pick just one, but think I’d have to say Jamie Oliver.
no, never dated a chef.
a nice big greek salad.
Joel, my partner 😉