by Lauren Gill | Photography by Stephanie Goldfarb
Take a Peek Inside Seven Species, the Charitable Supper Club That's Helping Women and Trans* People of Chicago One Meal at a Time

Once a month, tucked at the top of a staircase in an Edgewater apartment, Stephanie Goldfarb is hard at work. Surrounded by stacks of ramekins, cubing a fresh-from-the-oven focaccia, or dicing a handful of locally grown herbs for a dish's finishing touch, she prepares each meal with a cause and a message in mind. Seven Species Supper Club got its start back in June of 2013. Saddling up as an active board member for the Chicago Women's Health Center, Stephanie decided she wanted to take her expected fundraising goal up a notch—from $500 a year to an ambitious $2,000. She explains, "I had to figure out a way to bring in cash on a regular basis. Supper clubs were the perfect format for me to not only cook amazing food, but also to diversify the funding stream of the Health Center by getting people who previously had no affiliation with the organization to spend money on a great night out. And it totally works."

“I feel like I am obsessed with a new dish every couple of months that I swear is the best thing I have ever made. Right now, it’s a take on a classic Rueben sandwich, but I deconstruct it and make it into a blintz.”
Prior to Seven Species, Stephanie was no stranger to the kitchen. She grew up in a family that embraced cooking (and occasionally critiqued it) with open mouths. "I have been cooking and watching people cook since I can remember," Stephanie mentions. "I have two older brothers who I worshipped (and continue to worship, but don’t give them the satisfaction). They demanded food all the time and I was more than happy to accommodate them. My oldest brother used to torture me, ever the pleaser, by rating all my food on a 10 point scale (10 being the highest) and I don’t remember ever getting close to a perfect 10. I think it was his strategy to keep the food coming."

Seven Species' first supper club touted a Middle Eastern theme accompanied with five types of breads (from paratha to baguette) made in-house, and a veritable smorgasbord including—but not reduced to—curried eggplant dressed with almonds, tahini, and pomegranate molasses, home-pickled fresh beets, and mango and cardamom panacotta. As if that weren't enough, diners were treated to hand-made bureka, an Israeli pastry filled with figs and pistachios. When Stephanie dives into a flavor palate or a menu, she deep-dives, seeking out personal challenges and dishes that many guests have never even imagined. Since her start, Stephanie has experimented with cuisines based on regions and seasons—hosting an Asian-Mexican fusion night (elote-smothered fried soba noodle cakes!) and a recent dinner in September celebrating her Jewish culture and heritage with a modern flair (two words, y'all: Rueben blintzes).

If that didn't hook you, let Stephanie explain: "I feel like I am obsessed with a new dish every couple of months that I swear is the best thing I have ever made. Right now, it’s a take on a classic Rueben sandwich, but I deconstruct it and make it into a blintz. So, a rye and caraway crepe stuffed with swiss cheese béchamel and smoked Portobello mushrooms, topped with a Russian dressing slaw. It’s decadent, but insanely flavorful."

“Having live musicians and performers is important because it really enhances that tone I am going for," she says. "It makes the night so special. I have some seriously incredible musician friends...and I love being able to trade them food for music.”
While supper clubs and underground dining are nothing new to the Chicago culinary scene, Seven Species' take and environment make it unique. Every month, Stephanie not only pores over seasonal produce and her search for her upcoming dinner's "wow factor," she also seeks out musicians and artists to entertain in her space. Recently, she's played host to singers and Spanish guitarists, and is always on the lookout for others to share the experience. "Having live musicians and performers is important because it really enhances that tone I am going for," she says. "It makes the night so special. I have some seriously incredible musician friends...and I love being able to trade them food for music."

Every supper's close also brings an introduction to the profoundly important work of the Chicago Women's Health Center. The CWHC is a health collective that provides women and trans* people gynecological and mental health care, regardless of ability to pay. Dining guests are given a brief financial tour of what their meal donation could fund—from sex health educational resources to youth to a potentially life-saving pap smear. Each meal is set to a sliding scale, so that more individuals can partake in the experience, and typically rests a suggested donation point of $45-65. For that amount, guests can expect a 6-7 course adventure and their donation (sans the cost of groceries for the evening) going straight to the health center's 501(c ) 3 establishment.

Stephanie's alternative foray into fundraising has been very successful thus far—yielding significant donations and heightened awareness, but also sowing new friendships. She gushes: "At every single supper club so far, I can hear people building new friendships in the dining room with people they otherwise may have not met before…It's really, really special to be able to create an atmosphere where people literally don’t want to leave at the end of the night and I have to play Enya or something to give them a hint."

At present, supper clubs will be taking place once a month, but Stephanie also offers catering services through Seven Species. She has also considered, at a future date, utilizing her culinary chops on behalf of other nonprofits and presenting food—already such a community builder—as a departure from a typical donation ask. Her next dinner for November is in the works, and updates can be found through her website or Facebook page.

Advice for a first timer? Stephanie says it's pretty basic: "Get your tickets early, have a totally open mind, talk to everyone at the table, even if you are nervous about it, and bring alcohol."


2013-10-17