Story by Muriel Vega
Yohana Solomon, originally from Ethiopia, and Atlanta resident Amanda Plumb instantly bonded over an interest in international food.
They met six years ago while Solomon was running a monthly pop-up food court event called the Atlanta Underground Market and Plumb was an attendee. The market would pop up with up to 20 vendors in a different secret location every month, including the Atlanta History Center and Atlantic Station. For a few dollars, visitors could try an array of small plates from emerging immigrant home chefs. The community of chefs and their admirers grew to 12,000 members.
Through this venture, Solomon connected Atlanta residents to chefs and entrepreneurs hoping to hone in their craft, while creating a pro-minority business model for them to grow their confidence and gain exposure.
“It’s all about giving opportunity,” Solomon says. “People like me enjoy cooking and feeding people, but don’t have that outlet. This is a great opportunity for people to try authentic, unique dishes from all over the world.”
After hearing the underground market customers ask for cuisines not readily available in Atlanta – even on Buford Highway — Solomon and Plumb sought to meet this demand while supporting immigrant entrepreneurs. In 2016 they began Chow Club Atlanta as an underground supper club out of Plumb’s East Atlanta home.
“Aside from money, these are people who don’t have a venue to cook their own food for the public,” Plumb says. “Our first [chef] was from Venezuela, and he works in someone else’s kitchen. Here, he can share the food he loves, and then, since a lot of them do catering work, help spread his name. Plus, they get feedback on their cooking to help them grow as chefs.”
Solomon and Plumb provide ingredients, a fully stocked kitchen, and arrange details with the attendees including a plated service, so the chefs can concentrate on the cooking.
One of their first supper club meetings was over a Syrian meal. A mother and son refugee duo cooked a multi-course meal for a small crowd during an uncertain time in their lives, after being only five months in the United States. Solomon points to it as one of the club’s best meals, although it hit a glitch due to the 2017 travel ban.
“Our PayPal account was frozen because they thought we were doing business with an embargoed country,” Solomon says. “So that was an unexpected adventure.”
Diners have also sampled cuisines from Hungary, Ethiopia, The Philippines, Ghana, Antigua, and other countries. Last December, the Chow Club duo challenged Korean chef Grace Kim to think outside the box and explore flavors not available in the state. Kim met Plumb and Solomon through the Underground Market in 2014, and, once invited to participate in Chow Club, she couldn’t say no.
“The opportunity to execute an expressive menu and be compensated was so exciting to me,” Kim says. “The environment was comfortable and fun – I cooked as I would for friends, and I found the supper club guests to be adventurous and inquisitive eaters who enjoyed their experience.”
Kim, cooking under the name kimcheeGRITS, merges traditional Korean and Southern cooking techniques in her dishes with a focus on seasonal and hyper-local ingredients. Her menu featured a soybean sprout soup with a light anchovy broth, a spicy summer garden kimchee and turkey cabbage boats.
“The Chow Club dinner was great opportunity creatively as well as financially,” Kim says. “It’s one of the few times I’ve been given the opportunity to share my own vision of food preparation and have the framework of a table d’hôte and a captive audience to serve as I liked.”
She’s one of many monthly chefs that have graced Plumb’s home to prepare full meals for up to 40 enthusiastic diners.
One of them, Tamara Kyle from Glenwood Park, has earned multiple stamps on her Chow Club passport, a small book that collects stamps from each dinner. Her first dinner was an Antiguan dinner in March 2017 and she’s been a regular ever since, with a Hungarian meal being her favorite.
“We keep going back not only for the amazing food we get to experience, but also for the opportunity to engage with the chefs and hear about the stories behind the food — where it comes from, how it’s enjoyed by locals, and personal stories from the chefs,” says Kyle, a five-time Chow Club attendee.
At the end of each monthly meal, the next cuisine dinner is announced with the next chef present to get familiar with the process.
In 2018 the Chow Club team hopes to expand into brunches because, aside from the popular Chinese Dim Sum, few international restaurants offering authentic breakfasts. This past February, they tried a new venue for their meal for a bigger-than-usual New Orleans-themed dinner, including a masquerade ball and photo booth.
“We’re creating a community where people can meet immigrants, where they see you not as somebody from a different country, but somebody that’s a part of the community,” says Solomon. “And you’re connecting through food. As a caterer, as an immigrant, as a person organizing it, it’s such a beautiful marriage right now.”
Dinners are posted on the website, chowclubatlanta.com, with a limited number of tickets, priced affordably for couples and regulars. Each dinner has an option for vegetarians.
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