Dining with The Four Coursemen
When this group of seven gastronomes gathers twice a month for dinner in Athens, it means a five-course feast for 26 lucky guests.
Meet the Members of The Four Coursemen Supper Club
University of Georgia college pals Damien Schaefer and Randy Dudley started The Four Coursemen supper club five years ago. Since then they've added three area chefs–Patrick Stubbers, Matt Palmerlee, and Eddie Russell–as well as Nancy Lind, the group's wine maven, and Noah Brendel, its jack-of-all-trades in the kitchen. "When people ask why we're called 'The Four Coursemen,' because there are seven of us and we serve five courses, we usually say we're good at food but bad at math," Nancy says. "Actually, we're all fans of the Metallica song, The Four Horsemen, so we took the name from that." All the Coursemen have "regular" jobs (Randy is a Web developer while Damien owns a Web design studio)–getting creative in the kitchen is how they unwind. In the spring of 2008 the members began renting a cozy shotgun house near the university and started preparing their twice-monthly meals. At first, they cooked just for themselves and their friends. "But it grew," Nancy explains. "Now we support the club with donations from the people who attend the dinners (typically $90 per person). We've never made a dime, all of the money goes toward preparing the meals–it's purely a hobby."
And what a tasty hobby. Dinners have included such dishes as an absurdly tender Plow Point farms poussin with creamed corn and a peach-tomato relish, or cured steel-head trout with lentil salad, caramelized Vidalia crème fraîche, and candied oregano blossoms. "People ask us when we'll turn the club into a restaurant," Nancy says. "Probably never–it would inherently change what we do. We certainly wouldn't be as adventurous with the menu."
Score a Seat
Interested diners sign up for the e-mail list on the club's Web site. A week before the next dinner, an e-mail goes out telling people when the RSVP function will be live. Reservations, which go quickly, are taken until the 26 slots are filled. Then, if you're among the lucky chosen few, you receive an e-mail with directions to the cottage and a time to arrive. The rest is pure enjoyment.
Savor the Meal
Guests trickle into a dining room filled with two banquet tables covered in white linens. While the large room takes up most of the front of the house, it's still a tight fit for 26 people. But nobody seems to mind–because nobody stays a stranger for long. Nancy says about half of the guests come from the Athens area, but it's not uncommon to find people from out of town or out of state. They all have one thing in common–nobody knows the menu until everybody is seated. "We keep the menu secret beacuse we want to stay totally flexible," Damien explains. "That way we can use whatever ingredients strike us when we hit the farmers' market the morning of the dinner." For the night of our meal, the club members make some very good decisions. There's silky Copper River salmon, accompanied by Randy's handcrafted pickled vegetables, Matt's charcuterie, and Nancy's made-from-scratch cello cocktails. After dessert (banana pudding topped with homemade vanilla wafers), we linger over a nightcap. There was no harried server trying to move us along–just a happy group raising glasses to the pleasure of sharing good food with new friends.
What's For Dinner?
Here's a sample Four Coursemen menu complete with wine pairings:
Salad: Hakurei Turnip Rillettes with Squash Blossom, Randy's Pickled Green Beans, and Baby Lettuces with a beverage of Calixte Cremand d'Alsace Brut
Soup: Chilled Fava Bean Soup with Matt's Country Ham, Pickled Corn, Red Jalapeño, and Mint Oil with Shaya Verdejo "Old Vine"
Entrées: Cured Steelhead Trout with Lentil Salad, Caramelized Vidalia Crème Fraîche, Carrot Puree, and Candied Oregano Blossoms with Claude Riffault Sancerre or Smoked Pork Butt with Summer Succotash, Dr. D's Peach BBQ Sauce, and Green Tomato Relish with Louis Lignères Le Signal
Dessert: Macerated Blueberries in Brown Butter Tuile with Rosemary Lemon Curd and Carpano Sabayon with St-Germain and Casteller Blueberry Bellini