Aoife founded the Open Door Supper Club in an effort to fuse community and food back together. Here she tells up about the impact the club has had on her and the people who attend. Our Food Heroes section is a compilation of people who are actively involved in improving the foodscape of their towns, counties or countries.
Years of longing for community and food to come back together, I decided to make a change. Summer 2012, I found myself cycling hurriedly down Dublin’s South Circular Road on a breezy day. I hit a pothole and very nearly lost one of the three rabbits in my basket. The Open Door Supper Club was in its infancy. I was busy gathering supplies and trying my best not to lose any. We’ve since flown from the urban cradle of Dublin city to more southerly climes, but the ethos of The Open Door remains the same: a simple desire to gather and feed people around one table.
Commune originates from the French verb comuner, meaning to share. So often we find ourselves sharing food on Instagram and Facebook forgetting to look each other in the eye, to connect with each other. Thankfully, in my experience, the supper clubs play out differently. People who come along want to interact with one another, to get to know each other. A mini community is created for one night only, and no two are ever the same.
Sometimes the suppers are created to celebrate another kind of connection. In an old stone barn, in a field near Kinsale, Co. Cork, we sat on hay bales, around a makeshift table. A mixture of strangers, friends, locals, and blow-ins – all there to celebrate soil. We gazed out onto a field of beautiful, blue phacelia flowers my brother and his friends had planted to enrich the soil and attract pollinating insects. If you were to stand on your tiptoes, you could catch a glimpse of the ocean. We ate mackerel with thick slices of bread and homemade butter, local leaves with edible wild flowers, fresh labneh cheese, and pickled vegetables from my dad’s garden. Conversations centred around the importance of the unseen ecosystem beneath our feet and how we can help to nurture the fragile bee populations that help to feed our communities. People left with full bellies, packets of seeds, and knowledge.
Fennellys’ of Callan, Co. Kilkenny, used to be a pub, butchers, grocers, undertakers, and dairy. Now it is a community art space. Using local produce from the incredible gardens of the nearby Camphill Centre, where people with intellectual disabilities are offered a community setting, I prepared a meal in response to the history of the connective tissue of the town – it’s main artery – Bridge Street. Since being bypassed twenty years ago, the town’s landscape has dramatically changed. There’s a pervading hush. The evening at Fennellys’ was only made possible because of a desire to come together and feast on stories of old. More importantly, what revealed itself to us was that under the right circumstances, you can taste a vibrancy that hasn’t disappeared.
Food cannot be cultivated without community nor community without food. The Open Door was so named because I wanted to invite people in, to create a dialogue and to nourish human connection. For future suppers, I hope people will continue to sit together as strangers, break bread as strangers, but leave as friends.