We partnered with Karen Mordechai, the founder of the communal cooking school Sunday Suppers, and her culinary community to host a spirited Friendsgiving dinner in her Williamsburg, Brooklyn studio. Guests feasted on a rustic menu featuring recipes from Karen’s new book, including a truffled turkey, luxurious mashed potatoes and a pumpkin creme brulee served family-style. Read more interviews with the guests and get the recipes here.
Photographer and food stylist Karen Mordechai began Sunday Suppers with a simple dinner served in her Williamsburg apartment. Today, it has grown into a beloved communal cooking center hosting dinners and workshops in a bright studio space in Brooklyn. Read on to learn more about the Sunday Suppers story, Karen’s entertaining style and her favorite Thanksgiving rituals.
How did you become a food photographer?
I went to school for photography. I did my Master’s at NYU and studied studio art with a concentration in photography. I found my way to food with my thesis project that was on my grandmother’s and my mother’s cooking. I would hang out with my mom when she was cooking and I would shoot everything—my love of food is very strong, we grew up with a lot of food around us.
When I came out school, I did documentary-style wedding photography. It was challenging, fun and exciting but it wasn’t my love or my passion. I did it for a few years and I found myself wanting to go back to food. I started doing these suppers, and shooting them and posting the pictures on a blog. It gave me the opportunity to go back to what I loved. It’s mostly been food since then. This is what I’ve been wanting to do.
How did Sunday Suppers begin?
It was a really organic start in April 2009. My husband and I decided to have this supper at home; at the time, I collaborated with a friend of mine who is a chef. We though, let’s have a communal dinner party–we’ll invite our friends, we’ll do it early and we’ll call it Sunday Suppers because its reminiscent of a family meal. We set up two rickety tables in our apartment and put out mismatched silverware and I photographed it and put up the recipes. I didn’t think anyone was going to read it. It kind of went viral after the first dinner, we got an amazing response from people that wanted to come to our next supper. Each supper was an opportunity to do a different theme or season. It just became this thing. It wasn’t trendy back then, it just really resonated with people–I think we want to cook, and be in other people’s apartments when they are cooking. It’s also very intimate; everyone is hiding behind a computer and not really meeting in person.
We kept hosting and the suppers kept growing, they’d sell out really fast. I was shooting them up until the very end of my pregnancy, and then we started looking for studios. We found one right across the street from our apartment. Now we do public events, and sometimes private events.
How does the process of creating a supper work?
It’s always different–it’s not the same way every time. It’s endless. You could come at it from an ingredient perspective or a time of year—summer solstice, for example. There is no end to it, and it’s fun. It’s helpful to have some sort of concept; it all ends up being cohesive.
What does your aesthetic bring to your suppers?
There is an aesthetic but it’s a simple approach. Ever since I was young, I would styling my plate at a buffet. Creating beauty enhances experience and makes people comfortable. That’s how I like my surroundings to look—it’s not that thought out. I like to create the setting you are going to be comfortable in.
What are some of your most memorable dinners?
The first one is the most memorable. It was in the fall, and we were all really very present in the moment. We were looking over the Brooklyn skyline and we were with friends. All of the other ones are so different, they all have their own unique memories.
What are some of your food traditions?
Food is a huge part of our day to day life. I cook all of Sophia’s meals and have ever since she was a baby from locally sourced, good produce. I love exposing her to wonderful food and different types of food—we do that as a family together all the time, whether it’s at the studio or at home. She comes with me to the market, she’s a really good little foodie.
What are some of the meals you grew up with?
My family is from Israel and my grandparents are from Kurdistan. It’s very Mediterranean cooking; in Israel the community they grew up with was comprised of a lot of different people from Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt…it was a melting pot, all of these different people coming together. So my mom’s cooking is influenced by that—it’s a lot more intense than what I cook. Our food is lighter fare, less intense, more ingredient-focused, because of the times we live in and the ingredients around us. We always celebrated holidays—we actually grew up with Friday Night Dinners. We had a crazy mealsevery week and people would come over. That’s what I am recalling with Sunday Suppers, just putting my own spin on it.
Tell us about some of your Thanksgiving traditions. What recipes do you use year after year? Where did you get your inspiration for this year’s menu?
My family didn’t really do Thanksgiving—I created Thanksgiving in my own life and in my married life. I have some recipes that come from my husband’s side, like a sweet potato soufflé. The Friendsgiving menu is pretty much our menu almost every year, with a few little tweaks. It’s one of our favorite holidays and it’s close to my husband’s birthday, so it’s one of our favorite times. Sometimes we’ll have our New York friends come to us here—last year we had a Friendsgiving at the studio and we all went around and said what we were thankful for. The kids made paper turkeys and it was really special.
I like it to be warm and casual; when we were growing up, everything had to be perfect when people came over, and everything had to be assembled and ready. We don’t stress about it, everyone jumps in and helps out. It makes people feel more comfortable and they don’t feel like they have to be served. We mostly do family style and platters and pass it all. Sometimes we’ll do a buffet and pass around the sides.
What is your favorite part of the Thanksgiving menu?
Mashed potatoes obviously! Also gravy—a good gravy goes along way. I’m a total sides girl—turkey is great, but its all about the sides.
Where do you get inspiration? What are some of your favorite books and blogs?
To me, the market is the most inspiring place, with all of the visuals and colors. I also love Donna Hay and Yotam Ottolenghi.
Traveling—every time we travel that is always inspiring.
Your suppers are always so beautiful—what are some of your favorite ways to style a table?
I think I usually opt for white dinner plates. And I love bringing in some texture, like linen or a washed linen, in a runner or tablecloth. I don’t think you have to overthink it; add simple blooms or greens, something to add some life. Little bits go a long way.
Over time, I’ve gotten better about organization. We are cooking for 24 guests and I think about that when I am creating the menu, to make sure it all makes sense; we do one thing that doesn’t need a lot of hands-on time like a braise. Only one or two elements can be time-sensitive things, you can’t have too many in one menu. If there are one or two things that have to be done at the moment, and you’re doing that thing when guests arrives it’s cool because they can be involved.
What are some elements that create a magical dinner party?
Food, music and people—good people and good food is my motto. You’re always going to remember the people you were sitting with and the conversations you had. It’s all about creating an atmosphere that people can enjoy themselves in and that you can enjoy.