Meet & Eat: Emily Cavalier, Midnight Brunch

Meet and Eat: NY

Conversations with chefs and food personalities in New York City.

Part dinner party, part cocktail party, part restaurant, and part social scene, supper clubs can be found all over the city. One recent addition to the mix is Midnight Brunch, the creation of Emily Cavalier, who blogs at Mouth of the Border. She's taken her passion for the city's ethnic cuisines and started a late-night supper club to feature the flavors she has discovered over the years. Toss in some custom cocktails, some helping hands, and a group of food-lovers, and you've got yourself a tasty way to spend an evening.

Name: Emily Cavalier
Location: Clinton Hill/Fort Greene
Occupation: Founder, Mouth of the Border and Chef/Hostess, Midnight Brunch
Website: www.midnightbrunch.com; Twitter: @EmilysPearl

What was the first dish you remember cooking for a large group? Lasagna. I had people over once a month during my junior year of college, when I had an apartment with a kitchen. I'm half-Italian, so that food is basic and comforting to me. Up until maybe five years ago, though, I made it with cottage cheese in place of the ricotta. I used to hate ricotta, but now that I love it and make my own, I feel I got my Italian card back.

You attended several supper clubs before starting your own. What about them was appealing to you? Starting a supper club was less about replicating what I saw at friends' clubs and more about wanting an excuse to cook for lots of people on a more regular basis and teach them about ethnic food.

That said, there are two things I really dig about supper clubs. One, you always meet creative people who love food at these things. People willing to dine with total strangers at a previously unknown location are usually an intriguing bunch.

Two, supper clubs are usually produced by people who aren't professional chefs. They're people who just love food so much that they do this in the little free time they have. I'm attracted to that passion. Food almost always tastes better when made by someone who loves the act of cooking (or who loves you).

What inspired you to start a supper club? I never would have started Midnight Brunch if it weren't for my food website, Mouth of the Border. Through MOTB, I explore NYC's ethnic neighborhoods and how they cook and eat together. I wanted to a way to share those cultures with other people and challenge myself to really embrace these cultural influences in my own kitchen.

People love ethnic cuisines but seem apprehensive about cooking it for themselves. It shouldn't be this way, as ethnic food is frequently about really basic, fresh ingredients combined in ways that are maybe unfamiliar to Americans.

For example, the first course on the menu at the February Midnight Brunch was a carrot salad made in the Gujarati (Indian) style. It was just shredded carrots tossed with lemon juice, sugar and salt, cilantro, green chilies and chopped peanuts. It couldn't be easier to make, but the flavor combo is one not normally seen in "American" cuisine.

The final push in launching Midnight Brunch was the feeling that I have a great opportunity to work with brands to help them get in front of the types of audiences they care about. We worked with several liquors brands as sponsors of the last event, and one of them is a mezcal that isn't even on the market yet. Midnight Brunch is a platform for the unexpected. I'm excited to see where it goes.

Why "Midnight Brunch"? Why not? You got somewhere better to be than eating delicious jerk fried chicken and waffles in the middle of the night?

Were you at all concerned that people wouldn't come at midnight? Not at all. As it turns out, there are droves of people who want nothing more than to drink boozy, delicious craft cocktails and eat ethnic-inspired comfort food in the middle of the night. Midnight Brunch is a mash-up of all the best types of Saturday nights, shared with 10-20 other amazing people.

How did you pick the first theme? The first neighborhood I explored for Mouth of the Border was Crown Heights, a West Indian neighborhood in Brooklyn. The West Indian islands' food is very down to earth. It's hard to find anything "fancy" about it, but it is deeply nourishing, soulful cuisine.

What was involved in putting the evening together? The shortlist of tasks involved securing a cool venue, working with friends to craft original cocktail recipes and narrow down the final cocktail program, commit to a menu and then test that menu twice, secure sponsors to offset the cost of producing the event, work with a party rental place to rent service/glassware/furniture and then, of course, curating an amazing guest list and selling the tickets. That last thing was the easiest part. At $85 a piece, tickets sold out in 20 minutes.
How do you think it went? Really well. I've never cooked for two dozen people at once before and February was the first one, so I kept waiting for something to go wrong but nothing did. We had an awesome duo of bartenders and I had three friends who are more experienced than I am handling on-site prep and cooking in the kitchen. Between all of us, we made sure guests had a really memorable night and that they left (via car service) full, drunk, and happy. That's not to say we didn't learn anything the first time around, but for a first event, it was pretty solid.

Do you plan to have guest chefs/bartenders for all of them? Any sneak peeks on who's next? I'll always have guest bartenders, but some editions of Midnight Brunch will be for 10 people, so on those I can do all the cooking myself. I can say that the next few themes involve whisky and meatballs, a gluten-free edition and a Midnight Brunch with lots and lots of absinthe.

When is your next event and how can Serious Eaters find out about it? Midnight Brunch is a once-a-month thing for now, and is invite-only. The best way to score an invite is to read MouthOfTheBorder.com or send me an email and request to be added to the list. I want all types of people to come hang out, so don't feel like you have to know anything about food or cocktails to have a good time with us. Be awesome, and we'll figure the rest out together.