Underground supper clubs are a popular way to showcase a chef’s creativity. But they’re also one of the best ways for a chef without a restaurant to build a brand.
Joe Shirley started his supper club version, known as Überdine, in 2013, while he was executive chef for the Federal Reserve Bank. More recently, he has been hired to revamp the food and beverage service at the members-only Kansas City Club.
Überdine was designed to be a dress rehearsal for the day Shirley and his wife open their own restaurant. (They’re waiting for their sixth-grade son to graduate from high school.) Every couple of months, Shirley hosts an event at a previously undisclosed location, one frequently without an on-site kitchen, such as a courtyard or art gallery.
“We have two hours to build a restaurant,” he says. “It’s pretty extreme.”
But during a recent sold-out event at Happy Gillis, the kitchen was the least of his worries. Instead, the focus was on collaborating with owners Josh and Abbey-Jo Eans, as delighted diners were treated to a creative culinary duel that lasted for a fierce 14 courses.
As the chefs riffed on techniques and ingredients both familiar and obscure, diners got a taste of Shirley’s style: a deconstructed watercress soup with blue cheese, kiwi and bacon; a biblically inspired brisket cooked in milk with tapioca pearls and collard greens; and a dramatic dish of octopus with lemon, wakame and sunchoke.
Überdine events go out through mailing lists, website and social media. The next event, in May, is Shirley’s own tribute to modern Italian cuisine. Tickets are $100 per person, plus tax and gratuity. Wine and beer pairings are included, if the location permits. Guests pay online, and the secret location is revealed a week before the event.