Call them the ideamakers. The Almost Brothers – Norman and Rob (who are really almost brothers – Rob’s brother is married to Norman’s sister) have taken the dinner party format and turned it into one of New York’s most sought-after secret supper clubs, all in six months. Together with hostess Sari, and cocktail maestro Alistair, they call their monthly parties (that are known to end in dancing into the wee hours), the Ma Sarap Supper Club – delicious, in Norman’s native Filipino. And delicious it is.
What is the Ma Sarap concept?
Norman: A multi-course dinner that starts with cocktail hour. A different theme each time, but always with amazing food and great company.
Sari is the hostess who brings people together, starting conversations over canapés and cocktails, which is Alistair’s specialty. He infuses his own alcohol, creates incredible flavor profiles and twists on traditional cocktails, like a Smoked Manhattan.
Rob: The other thing is the desserts. We make them for the first time at the dinner itself. It’s an extra challenge and makes it more exciting. At this Saturday’s School’s Out! dinner, I’m making seven different desserts, which should be fun. The venue changes almost every time too, from a huge Flatiron loft to a classic Brooklyn brownstone, and a huge private residence at The Plaza.
Your themes are really creative, from a modern-meets-medieval ode to the leap year, to high-end Irish food on St Patrick’s Day. How do you come up with the ideas?
Norman: Alistair and I have these radical ideas, like ‘let’s throw a Tim Burton-style party with food inspired by his movies!’ and then Rob comes in and says, listen, let’s think about what’s happening at this time. School’s out, we’re taking the summer off. Let’s do a high-end take on the cafeteria. Obviously that makes sense.
If it was too sensible, it wouldn’t fun.
How did the idea to start a secret supper club come about?
Norman: I’ve always known that Rob was into cooking. Anytime there was a family gathering, we’d both cook something to bring to the dinner. And then I crashed at Rob’s when I moved to New York: his roommate would do the cleaning, and Rob and I would cook.
Rob: We talked about doing a few things. A food truck, cooking for other people. We wanted to refine our cooking and see if we could turn it into an experience that people would pay for. So we gave it a shot, and it worked.
Norman: The first Ma Sarap supper club was Love Me, I’m Swedapino, combining Swedish food with the flavors of Filipino food, because I’m half-Swedish, half-Filipino. I grew up eating that food so I knew it would be amazing flavor-wise: we served calamansi margaritas, Swedish meatballs with pickled papaya, a mash-up of the two cuisines. So the supper club would only fail if the service sucked or the presentation sucked. And it’s been a home run each time.
What influences your cooking?
Norman: My mom is a really great cook, so I grew up eating amazing Filipino food, and I think Filipino food is the most exciting cuisine in the world with all the spices and flavors.
Rob: My mom is a great cook too, but I grew up eating classic Irish-American food – shepherd’s pie, lasagne, ziti. All delicious, but we didn’t have anything spicy – black pepper was considered spicy. Then I went to Jamaica for spring break, and all those spices were a huge eye-opener.
Norman: I’m totally inspired by the food I eat: if one day I eat a delicious shepherd’s pie, and the next day I eat delicious Jamaican food, then I want to create Jamaican shepherd’s pie.
What’s next for Ma Sarap?
We just cooked at the Evening in Manila fundraiser for 300 people, alongside Maharlika and other great restaurants, which was a definite adrenalin rush. People were asking where our restaurant is, and where we went to culinary school. That’s a huge compliment. We’re talking about taking over a restaurant in Astoria for a night. And we’re back with Ma Sarap in the fall, thinking of doing a greatest hits dinner, with some of our favorite dishes. It’s exciting times.
The next Ma Sarap Supper Club takes place Saturday, June 16th at The Plaza. Theme: School’s Out! The Lunch Lady Goes Luxe. Buy tickets here.