“My history with food started as a vegetarian years ago,” says Little Planet Supper Club chef Erin Ragsdale in a surprising plot twist — just days ago I had enjoyed a hearty “Around the World” dinner of succulent and juicy barbecued meat from a menu of her own devising.
Ragsdale and her husband, Mark Celsor, began Little Planet, a monthly pop-up supper club that brings international cuisine to various locations around the Queen City, about two years ago after they decided to embark on a personal journey across the globe from their own kitchen.
“There’s a lot more we have in common with one another, and despite so many of us thinking of barbecue as a strictly American obsession, it just isn’t true,” Ragsdale says.
She proved that statement with the aforementioned dinner; the first course was Korean bulgogi beef tenderloin, followed by Cuban mojo-glazed pork shoulder, Moroccan lamb kabob and applewood-smoked pulled chicken. Each plate had a flavorful side, like the sour orange-marmalade-and-cilantro slaw that accompanied the Cuban pork. For dessert, phyllo dough was layered under pie cherries and brushed with bourbon for a sweet finish.
The bulgogi started dinner off on a high note: It was juicy, flavorful and wrapped in Boston lettuce for a refreshing crunch. I thought it was an appetizer, but Ragsdale actually makes each course about the same size, so the dinner felt more like a delicious wine tasting with meat instead of booze.
Variety is what makes the world go ’round (or something), but there were moments when I wanted to press pause and grab a discrete additional armful of my favorite dishes. By the end, I was content, but not uncomfortably full.
The dinner took place at Braxton Brewing Company in Covington, so each course was paired with one of their beers. We tried the Storm cream ale, Crank Shaft IPA, Haven hefeweizen and Dead Blow tropical stout, in that order.
All of Little Planet’s menus are carefully planned with comprehensive details and references to the country of origin. It’s a part of Ragsdale’s mission to prove that we have more in common with one another than not, and it’s a message that, in light of recent world events, we could all stand to listen to more closely. If we can substitute our mouths for our ears in this case, I won’t be one to complain.
“All of our suppers require a good deal of research beforehand,” Ragsdale says. “Our Scandinavian supper led to my learning about the deeply rooted culture of year-round food preservation that historically helped people through months of dark winter.”
“For our North American dinner, we realized the substantial mark that French colonialism left on the flavors in every dish,” she continues. “Why is ghee used heavily through parts of Asia and the Middle East? How did cardamom become such a predominant spice in Scandinavian countries despite being unable to cultivate it? There are often centuries of trade and war and climate change that have brought these recipes to fruition; the least I can do is take an afternoon and appreciate that.”
It’s the diners who get to sit down and enjoy every aspect of these worldly dinners, and Ragsdale and Celsor work tirelessly to make the dinners happen.
“From start to finish, each supper club takes up about a week of my month,” Ragsdale says, and that’s on top of day jobs for both parents.
“The only difficult thing about starting up was finding the confidence to finally do so,” she says. “It was a lot harder realizing that I could take what I had been daydreaming about and make it into a reality and even moreso that I might even realize a measure of success. Everything else is just paperwork. I still find myself sitting back, amazed, when strangers purchase tickets to our events having never heard of us before.”
Celsor might not cook the delicious dishes, but he’s just as busy. Little Planet Sound System is his contribution — find it on Sound Cloud and sample some of the international music he has handpicked for the dinners. After all, if food is the biggest link uniting the denizens of the globe, then surely music is a close second.
“We do extensive research into indigenous music to play as a backdrop,” Ragsdale says. “It’s amazing the difference good music can make to really change the tone and feel of the meal.”
For now, you can only enjoy dinner through Little Planet — next up is South East Asia on July 7 — but Ragsdale adds a little show-stopper when she drops the B-word: Next up for Little Planet? Brunch.
Find more information about LITTLE PLANET SUPPER CLUB or buy tickets at eatlittleplanet.com.
HALLOUMI KEBABS WITH WATERMELON SALAD
Recipe provided by Erin Ragsdale
18 ounces of halloumi cheese, cubed (*Note: Seitan can be substituted as a vegan option)
20 cherry tomatoes
6 medium shallots, peeled and quartered
1/2 teaspoon sumac
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small watermelon, cut into chunks
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 English cucumber, diced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup loosely packed mint leaves, torn
Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions: Mix all salad ingredients together, allowing to chill for half an hour, tossing as needed to fully saturate the watermelon. Using either metal skewers or bamboo skewers that have been soaked in water overnight, thread tomatoes, cheese and shallot onto skewers. Using a pastry brush, generously paint with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and sumac. Grill on high heat until cheese and tomato begin to blister. After removing from grill, sprinkle with fresh thyme. Serve kebabs over salad.