When Karen Mordechai collaborated with a chef friend to host a Sunday night dinner in her apartment in 2009, she never would have guessed where it would lead. “We had no intention beyond gathering, cooking and eating together,” she laughs. But Karen, who is a photographer by trade, couldn’t resist taking pictures and blogging about the event. In no time she was getting emails from long distance fans as far away as Australia hoping to plan their vacations around her dinners. Since that first communal meal, Sunday Suppers has grown from a humble dinner series into a hugely successful blog and a New York Times-acclaimed cookbook (get her buttermilk cornbread recipe here). We caught up with the popular Brooklyn blogger to chat about her maker collaborations and what it’s like to plan a dinner for 50.
For those first two years, Karen and her husband dutifully moved all the furniture out of their living room to make space for eighteen dinner guests in their Williamsburg apartment. The arrival of a tiny third family member spurred a move into a larger space, and now she operates out of a huge industrial loft that also functions as a photography studio. The move proved fortuitous in more ways than one; in addition to allowing more guests to enjoy the dinner series, it now functions as a classroom space for food styling and photography workshops.
Karen understood the value of collaborating with other artists and designers from the start. One of the guests at her very first dinner rapidly became one of her closest collaborators; food photographer Aran Goyoaga will be flying in from Seattle in late April to teach a food styling and photography workshop at the Sunday Suppers studio. Karen is constantly searching for new vendors, florists and guest chefs to realize her events.
Each Sunday Supper is meticulously planned starting with a specific concept inspired by seasonality. A dinner this winter focused on roots. “We plan holistically around an event from start to finish. We started thinking about winter, root vegetables, staying grounded, staying close with family and friends and savoring that.” To pursue the concept, Karen collaborated with florist Fox Fodder Farm to hang huge branches from the ceiling. The branches, evocative of roots in the sky, were accompanied by framed whole plants, roots included, of course. The menu, as rustic as the decorations, included beet pickled eggs and apple and celeriac salad alongside hearty marrow toast and honey roasted root vegetables with swiss chard.
Karen’s photography makes each dinner look effortless, but she admits that the first few were stressful. Having grown up in a family that valued big meals, she’s learned to let go of expecting perfection. “That’s not what it’s about,” she says. “It’s about community and sharing great food together in a communal space.” She’s unfazed by having guests arrive before she’s finished plating, and she knows that attitude ultimately makes for a better atmosphere. “It takes the edge off,” she laughs.
Although she could easily keep busy with the blog and the dinner series, Karen found time to publish a cookbook in 2014. Sunday Suppers is organized as a collection of small gatherings in different locations from the forest in San Francisco to paella on the beach. “It’s meant to inspire people to find beauty in location and pack a great picnic,” Karen says, although the book includes plenty of indoor meals as well. Organized by time of day, the coffee table-worthy tome provides the perfect, albeit idealized, ingredients-driven menus for your next whiskey feast or city picnic. The simple recipes are accessible to the home cook, and poetic intros set the scene for beautifully-realized photo essays.
Photos courtesy of Sunday Suppers.