“Foie gras!” Butter truffle brioche!” “Bakerē cheese cupcakes!” For the cousins Miko Calo and RJ Galang, the pair behind the Underground Supper Club, this is meant to be a typical exchange: answers that don’t follow questions, but somehow, as proven by the seven-course dinner I recently had, make perfect sense.
First, it starts with family. “Go wild in the kitchen” was the only command of a table of diners Calo calls family—notorious hard cooks and fussy eaters—and that was all it took for her to set the stoves alight below foie gras, sea bass, duck, and an idea. Calo, on sabbatical from L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, having worked in its Singapore and London kitchens, had a family to feed, one of them her cousin, RJ Galang. “Let’s put up a restaurant,” said Galang. Calo whipped back one condition: “No commitments.”
“Most of our successful collaborations come when we don’t think about it,” explains Galang. “When we just do ‘what if?’ scenarios. When we don’t try too hard.” They named this pop-up, offhandedly, the “Underground Supper Club,” after the trend of culinary one-night stands in chefs’ apartments where strangers-cum-dinner guests, twiddle their forks to a simulated dinner-at-home experience. The experience is steps down from dinner at a landmark restaurant in a district where parking is half the meal.
They take over a kitchen for a night, serve a degustation course to diners, and then pack up and leave. “We make it a point to pop-up in unusual restaurants,” explains Galang. The seat I landed was at their second dinner, at a small café called Commune in Makati. Calo has one chef assisting her, while Galang, who also makes the meal’s salts (mulled wine salt, espresso salt, sriracha salt) handles the front of house; that’s two chefs for 20 people times seven dishes to prepare in the span of three hours. Galang puts it like this: “For as long as the kitchen can handle the load of 20 to 30 diners—house or restaurant—then dinner is served.”
Sending out a stack of squash, carrot, and cucumber with truffle Barolo balsamic vinegar, Robuchon-inspired foie gras with parmesan foam, and Angus beef with “mashed butter and some potatoes,” the plates don’t beg a wanting ogle, but are taken with elbows on the table and all seriousness aside. Calo describes it as “good food but direct; comfortable and fun. Because that’s how we are. That’s how our family is.”
Now a strong staple, the pan-seared foie gras with bacon jam inside a maple-glazed croissant is the high-five that joins the two chefs—where Calo is foie gras and Galang is his own homemade bacon jam. “A pretty straightforward dish that’s the perfect reflection of both of us,” explains Calo.
Their menu changes on Calo’s whim, keeping dinner a surprise even for the chef herself, but their mission statement is looking like this: “To serve food amazing enough that the guests have double vision.” Holding dinners nearly every fortnight from now until May with a calendar possibly open to your own private dinner (for reservations, go to @ugsupperclub on Instagram and Twitter, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) it’s the kind of thing to treat with the urgency and acceptance that this good thing will eventually come to an end, thanks to Calo’s inevitable return to Robuchon. Meanwhile, seats are open and the philosophy remains: “It’s better with butter,” Calo stresses. “And bacon jam.”
This article first appeared in our December 2013 issue.