As we sat around a makeshift dinner table—a door propped up on milk crates—with Christmas lights and calm music in the background, we knew we weren’t in Usdan anymore. Although most of the guests did not know one another, our host, Luke Pang ’10, had invited us all for a laid-back dinner party with upscale food.
After reading a New York Times article about supper clubs in New York City, Pang decided to extend his regular dinner parties with friends to a larger audience. Like the New York City supper clubs, Pang invites both people he knows and people he has never met before.
“Fifty percent of my guests are invited and fifty percent are strangers, which is a good mix,” he said.
Pang usually has 10 guests at each party. He sends e-mails to everyone who has attended his dinner parties in the past, and the first five people to respond get to bring five of their friends. Once the new guests have been to one of his dinner parties, they are added to his e-mail list, so that the next time he has a party they can invite someone else Pang doesn’t know.
Pang’s focus for the dinner parties is cooking homemade food with fresh ingredients. He hopes to work in the restaurant business when he graduates, and treats each dinner party as an opportunity to explore new recipes and cook challenging dishes. Over the summer, Pang brainstormed recipe ideas for the year, with the hope of holding a dinner party once every two weeks. Although he uses recipes to inspire his dishes, he mixes and matches ingredients from various sources, combining separate recipes to create something that is uniquely his own.
“I aim to make the food as satisfying as possible, while sticking to the goal of making food that has been homemade,” Pang said.
This homemade food is a rare treat for students tired of the regular dining options on campus.
“It was definitely a nice change of pace from campus dining and Middletown restaurants,” said Erica Chon ’13, a newcomer to Pang’s dinner parties. “It was a very enjoyable experience to relax and savor the taste of good food without the chaos of a cafeteria.”
Pang, who is originally from Singapore, always wanted to cook while growing up, but his mother would chase him out of the kitchen whenever he tried to cook anything. Only when he came to Wesleyan did he begin to cook regularly. Friends with kitchens would sometimes let him cook for them, and he began to experiment with complex recipes he found online, guided by video tutorials and detailed instructions. Pang became interested in the science behind cooking, curious to know the reasons behind each step in a recipe.
Pang cited New York City restaurants, as well as the city’s love of food, as a major influence on his cooking.
“In New York they take pride in their product,” Pang said. “You need to take pride in the food you are serving”
In addition to serving as a venue for Pang to cook new creations, the dinner parties are also designed to broaden students’ group of friends. Pang initially decided to let his friends invite people he had never met so that he could expand his own friendship circles.
“I was mostly sticking to my circle of international friends, and this sharing of food was a good way to meet new people,” Pang said.
This atmosphere creates relaxing dinner parties filled with delicious cuisine and friendly people. Pang serves all his guests before himself, and is constantly checking to make sure everyone is full and satisfied, just like a restaurant host would. He is also interested in how wine combines with certain dishes, so he encourages guests above 21 to bring wines or beers that he recommends will go well with each dish.
On Oct. 16, for example, Pang served pork rillettes, chicken liver pate, salad, French onion soup and cinnamon granita. The rillettes and pate were served first with garlic bread. Next came the salad and the soup, which was accompanied by homemade bread Pang made himself. Even though he said the dough had not turned out properly, no guest seemed to notice. Last was the granita—crushed ice with cinnamon flavors—which impressed everyone the most.
The dinner parties usually involve Italian or French food, as those are Pang’s specialties, and he uses fresh ingredients to create authentic dishes.
“I have just come back from a semester abroad in Paris and the pate, rillettes, toasted baguettes and onion soup reminded me of a regular dinner at my host mom’s house, which is a compliment of the highest degree,” said Samantha Lee ’11, who has attended two of Pang’s gatherings.
Pang creates a mini-restaurant inside his house, complete with interesting conversations and multiple courses. Although he hopes his love of food will inspire other students to start cooking, he doesn’t want these dinner parties to become commonplace.
“I’d be happy if I spurred other people [to cook] but I don’t want this to turn into a trend that everyone is doing, or else these dinners will lose their unique personality,” Pang said.