Take one empty-nester librarian with a talent for cooking. Add a creative streak and a penchant for sustainable agriculture. Stir in an investment property on the east side, and what do you get? The School Woods Supper Club.
The brainchild and part-time avocation of Madisonian Deb Shapiro, School Woods is a members-only dining club that hosts set-menu meals and features seasonal, local and organic foods. Shapiro hosts dinners and other culinary events in a flat on East Washington Avenue, offering food and an alternative kind of meal setting that are at once more personal than restaurants and more professional than Mom's.
An art history major in college, Shapiro longed to be a printmaker but turned to food service to earn a living. Cooking in restaurants and for a university dorm is "how I found out that cooking is my true art," she says. "When I had kids, the hours and pay of food service weren't doable," so she became a librarian. Researching recipes and cooking for her family satisfied her inner chef for years, but once her children were grown she needed a new way to do what she loves best: cook for people.
"The idea for the eating club came from a Martha Rose Shulman cookbook - she wrote about starting one on a college campus, and I was drawn to how it created this community around food. That's what I wanted." Shapiro also learned about off-duty chefs who prepare limited-seating meals in their homes for private groups. When a windfall inheritance made the purchase of a second home possible, she decided to use the investment to start a similar endeavor.
She named the building and the dining club it houses after what the property had once been - a school woods for East High. The club is part of a growing contemporary phenomenon wherein members gather in non-restaurant settings - a house, a farm, a community center - for meals that typically center around a culinary, seasonal or lifestyle theme.
Shapiro isn't interested in "pushing food to the heights of up-to-the minute chef-ery, with its sous-vide and foams"; rather hers is casual, everyday fare - "a labor of love." She served the first of what became monthly suppers two years ago; the meal included roasted vegetable lasagna, salad with goat cheese and pears and free-form plum galettes. Last winter she offered one-dish comfort dinners like soups, stews and macaroni and cheese, and during the growing season she hosted Sunday brunch buffets that highlighted farmers' market ingredients. A recent remodel in the School Woods kitchen will allow her to add cooking classes to the mix.
Membership, which is open to anyone, givesdiners "pick and choose" access toscheduled events; for more information, visit schoolwoods.com, where Shapiro's food blog and photography are also on display.
School Woods' Butternut Squash and Rosemary Penne
Recipe from Deb Shapiro, based on one in Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine.
- 1 pound dried penne pasta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2-3 three-inch fresh rosemary sprigs
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 cups butternut squash puree (or substitute other winter squash)
- 1/2 cup half-and-half
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus additional for garnish
- red pepper flakes to taste
Cook pasta in a large, heavy pot of boiling salted water. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Dry the cooking pot, add olive oil, and heat until oil is fragrant. Add rosemary sprigs and fry until they start to darken. Remove sprigs with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and reserve. Stir garlic into oil and cook it a few seconds. Gently stir in squash, then half-and-half, Parmesan and pepper flakes. Fold in pasta and, if necessary, some of the reserved cooking water. Crumble fried rosemary on top and serve with more cheese and red pepper flakes.