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April 25th, 2014
Sex on the Table’s Chef Fed
Growing up on Lake Zurich with a culinary school teacher for a mother, Fed spent plenty of his childhood in the kitchen. At 22 he decided to “go pro,” training in Switzerland’s prestigious culinary institute.
At 22 he decided to “go pro,” training in Switzerland’s prestigious culinary institute. He graduated at the top of his class and three short years later he received a Michelin star alongside Chef A. Blockbergen at the Auberge du Raisin on Lake Geneva. Fed has since cooked in some of the finest restaurants in Europe and the United States. After opening eateries in Marbella, Spain and reviving struggling restaurants in his home country, he started a high-end catering service for the Swiss Houses of Parliament.
From the outset of his culinary career, Fed saw the art of seduction as an inherent part of cooking and he viewed aphrodisiacs as part of the equation. And Sex on the Table was born. In 2010 Fed moved to New York. He spent 3 years running a small and exclusive Members Only Social Club and refining the Sex on the Table concept. In January 2013 he opened his cooking school on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Every class since March 2013 has sold out weeks in advance. Fed’s mission is to tantalize his guests’ senses with every dish he prepares. He teaches the use of texture to create the right feeling and he incorporates plating techniques that seduce the eye. Fed’s flavor combinations are so unique that some of the world’s most renowned perfumers reach out to him for advice. The goal is always to perfectly combine the 4 basic tastes to achieve that “Aaahhh” effect called Umami.
Where did the idea come from to create the unique NYC Supper Club, Sex on the Table? And did you ever think about opening a traditional restaurant rather then a supper club?
That's a very smart question, thank you. Although I knew New York City as a frequent business traveler, the city opened its full foodie potential to me only after I decided to physically move to New York in 2010. In retrospect, it really felt more like New York introduced me to the Sex on the Table idea than visa versa.
New York is a city of food and love, which is the foundation of Sex on the Table. The city and its compelling foodies gave me the opportunity to say yes to a Sex on the Table Supper Club and I am very grateful for it. The thought of opening a restaurant is not interfering with a Supper Club. It would be a great honor for me to add my own restaurant to the lineup of the great New York eateries. We will see what the future holds for Sex on the Table.
What is the experience and goal you want your guests to come away with when dining at one of your supper clubs? Why an aphrodisiac approach?
At Sex on the Table you can expect 20 yearly unique underground dinners created by exceptional chefs and held in unusual locations. Expect unique and surprising food pairings and social introductions. The word “aphrodisiac” is very loaded. It comes with high expectations, which you can only satisfy if you understand the art of seduction.
Seducing with food is no different from seducing a significant other. Only when you see, hear, feel, taste and smell the right thing your mind will be in the right place. And only when your mind is in the right place will things fall into place. But to answer your question: Food and Love are at the very root of our living existence. They are the two most life affirming things. There is a reason after all why we take our dates out for dinner. Sex on the Table helps sets the stage for people who understand this.
What makes Sex on the Table so unique compared to other clubs being offered in NYC and across the country? And in your opinion, why have supper clubs in general become so popular?
A Supper Club offers a dimension that a restaurant doesn't naturally come with, which is the social interaction with both the showcased chef as well as fellow foodies. It is a much more intimate way of dining. I think a lot of New York's and America's Supper Clubs are unique. At Sex on the Table we focus on the element of surprise, probably the most powerful tool for seduction. For each and every one of our dinners I work closely with my staff to deliver a new and surprising flavor experience. Cooking is based on a history that is loaded with emotional and cultural attachments.
The beauty about cooking in the US is that in most cases we are far away from the roots of these cultural attachments. That leaves us with a certain freedom to detach foods from the origin and present them in a new way. Like the Cilantro Sorbet with white Chocolate Flakes and Bacon Dust at Sex on the Table. To uproot Cilantro from its origin and transform it to a main character in a refreshing dessert is the logical succession of modern cooking, which has a history of fusing different cultures, transforming them into molecules, and lately completely reinventing them based on the freedom that the art of cooking provides us with.
Is Sex on the Table offered at the same location each month and are you the chef at each dinner? Or do you work with multiple chefs in the area and if so, is each location physically held at an actual restaurant with a working kitchen?
Hahah, that's a great question. Our kitchens are always working, to wrap this question up from the end. I cook about half of our yearly dinners, for the other half I am showcasing talent that is exceptional in their particular field. For our Bacon Fest, for example, we invited a chef from Atlanta to show us his take on our favorite protein. Sex on the Table Events are always held at new locations. We believe that the environment you choose to dine is just as important as the food itself. In winter we stay inside and mostly in Manhattan, in summer we tend to find hidden rooftops and little community gardens. Now that we have a new Mayor in New York, I would love to suggest a farm-table that spreads across Brooklyn Bridge, a dinner between Manhattan and Brooklyn so to say.
Are your ingredients all locally sourced? And on the beverage side, does Sex on the Table Supper club offer an Aphrodisiac signature cocktail menu?
I believe local sourcing is the responsibility of the restaurant industry in general and I really appreciate that the customer is ready to pay the extra dollar this may cost. But we also have to be aware that not every plant grows in New York state. A fully locally sourced New York menu would probably be pretty bland, given the long ways our spices travel before they reach our tastebuds. As for the signature cocktails, most of our events are BYOB. We work together with great sommeliers, who help our customers pick the right drink to bring along to our dinners.
What about the staff to help you with each dinner, who and what does that consist of?
I am blessed to have a dream team of workers, consisting of the most important of all, the busboys, then a greatly experienced Maitre D, two Sous-Chefs and a wonderful assistant, who is focusing on the business side of Sex on the Table. Cooking, after all, is one of the last standing team sports. I am very grateful to have a great team who puts our dinners in the spotlight.
Did you experience any trial and error when first opening Sex on the Table? If so, how did you resolve some of those issues?
Is this a trick question? Hahah. Cooking is all about trial and error. If you're not ready to lose everything you can't win anything. We've made a lot of mistakes and I honor each and every one of them. The biggest lesson we've learned along the way is the lesson of pricing. Anytime you put a price on a product you give it a value for a certain clientele. Finding the perfect price is key in the food industry. We've done a lot of fine tuning in this field until we found the perfect pricing that benefits both our customers as well as our business.
You also offer Aphrodisiac Cooking Classes. Explain the idea and why it’s become so popular with foodies.
During one of our cooking classes, you will prepare a three-course meal with me, using unique aphrodisiacs that can be found at any organic store. But that’s just the beginning. At Sex on the Table cooking classes you will learn to successfully combine unexpected flavors. You will get to know some of the dirty little secrets of chefs and discover how to stimulate all of your senses by creating the right texture, setting the right ambiance and choosing the appropriate presentation technique. I believe, what our customers appreciate about the experience is the homey atmosphere we create at our locations. It gives them the feeling of coming home to a chef and working with him. I think they like the social aspect of cooking with strangers that soon become friends and they also really love the food they cook. After all they learn a couple of recipes they get to take home. But what they really walk away with is how a chef's mind works when creating recipes. It gives them a lot of confidence to stock up their fridge and try something new.
Between your underground supper clubs and cooking classes, you also have your own line of Aphrodisiac products. Explain the line-up and are the products for retail only or do you offer these products to restaurants through local distribution?
Our products are based on the most successful flavor combinations from our cooking classes. When one recipe works even better than the rest, we take it back to the test kitchen and we rack our brains over how we could make a marmalade, a steak sauce, a chutney or something similar from the flavors that gave this dish a unique touch. Only when this challenge is completed successfully, we produce a small batch and offer it for retail. For our business this has been a great opportunity to offer Sex on the Table in markets where we don't host any events. Some states where you would least expect it are among our best-selling grounds. We've organically grown this product line and we have not yet reached a capacity that would allow us to wholesale our product line. We will, however, not rest until that next hurdle is taken.
What advice can you give to inspiring chefs who is looking to start their own supper club?
When you make sure that the next customer that comes across your doorstep leaves your establishment with an unforgettable experience you are doing everything right in this business.
Whether good or bad, what are some changes you’ve noticed in the foodservice industry?
We're catering to an increasingly educated customer, which is great. The growing density of restaurants also leads to a certain natural selection. If you're not good in a particular field, chances are you aren't going to make it. This competition on a very high level also comes with consumer friendly prices, which lead to low wages. We have to protect our industry from that cycle, because the danger that lies within is that the consumer is better educated than the food service industry worker who caters to him/her.
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