Former Cardamom Hill chef Omar Powell launches 1494 Supper Club

The chef spotlights Caribbean fine dining at his invite-only dinners
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Last June Omar Powell left his post as chef de cuisine at Asha Gomez’s Cardamom Hill. Now he’s taken a page from Gomez, who started Spice Route Supper Club, and started his own club called 1494.

With Jamaican roots and a fine dining background (Bacchanalia, Daniel, and the Atelier), Powell hosted his first event in March, serving Caribbean fine dining. Since then he’s hosted five-course dinners for twenty to thirty guests twice a month at $85 per person, including wine pairings. The location changes each time; past events have been held at Miso Izakaya (with Guy Wong serving as sous chef) and Storico Fresco Pasta.

Powell shares details below.

What makes 1494 different from other supper clubs?
It has a culinary philosophy and a goal. Most supper clubs are social events: You eat a wonderful meal and there’s a theme. But mine has an educational goal: to further the evolution of Caribbean cuisine. I make sure whoever sits at my tables walks away feeling enlightened.

Why 1494?
1494 represents that moment when the Old World and New World met. I’m from Jamaica and that’s when the New World came to Jamaica. There are so many nations that have come since that time. They all had some kind of culinary contribution to that region.

Caribbean food is rich and vibrant and different. I feel that on a world stage, the Caribbean is highly misrepresented. You won’t find a fine dining Caribbean restaurant, and it’s not that we lack the content.

How does your background impact your cooking at 1494?
I’m perfectly equipped to create it because of my experiences with Bacchanalia and Daniel. I cut my teeth in New York with all these wonderful chefs. I have a great background to bring that new standard to the Caribbean.

What’s a typical menu like?
At the last event, I started with a cold soup–a gazpacho spiced with Scotch Bonnet (habanero pepper from the Spanish region) with blue crab, avocado, mango, Spanish olive oil, and sprouts. The second course was a codfish duo. Cod is highly untraded in the Caribbean region, but codfish is the national dish in Jamaica. So I made Jamaican cod fritter with lime and honey aioli, and then cod with thyme and roasted tomatoes—the French method for cooking codfish.

Another course was en papillote snapper cooked in green plantain paper roasted golden, with callallo (a green kale-like vegetable from Jamaica), and a sorrel sauce (sorrel is similar to hibiscus flower).

How does wine play a role at the events?
A true meal is not complete without wine, outside of breakfast, of course. I love wines. You cannot work at Daniel Boulud and not know your wines. This is what makes it fine dining cuisine: when it is actually paired with wine. I have not seen Caribbean meals paired with wine. Our region does not make wine.

How do you source your wine?
I find wines from the Rhine Valley and the Loire Valley. If I’m going to do a Riesling, I have to use German wine because it has a higher minerality. I get sauvignon blanc from New Zealand—you can smell the guava in them, and it pairs well with coconut.

How do you select locations for your supper club?
I leverage my relationships with fellow chefs. I try to keep it fresh and make the space part of the experience. I’m looking at places like art galleries. At a good supper club, all the senses should be brought to life— what you see, hear, and smell—not just taste.

How do you get on the invite list?
It’s invite-only at this point. Outside of my list, I have four individuals who pick out guests who would be interested in this, so it has organic growth. Those who arrive recommend others to come along with them. You can visit my website and email me or contact me on Facebook to be considered.

Is this your full-time job?
Pretty much. I have other projects I’m working on.

Like a restaurant?
Yes, exactly. It’s a project I’m steadily working on. I don’t want to say too much about it until it’s in place.

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