Entertaining is something that Alice Levine and Laura Jackson know from the inside out.
With their food and lifestyle brand Jackson & Levine, the pair have launched and run a successful sell-out supper club, released their first book, Round to Ours, and now an impressive new capsule collection with Habitat is just around the corner. So what is their secret to being hostesses with the mostess?
How did your affinity for food first come about?
A: ‘My mum has always grown a lot of food herself, in the garden when I was a kid and now on a big allotment. So she talked a lot about the importance of seasonality. She cooked amazing meals every night, so there was an awareness and interest in food via osmosis, I guess. Later her job was in catering, so her passion definitely had a big part to play.’
L: ‘Differing from Alice, my mum taught me the art of entertaining. She loved to throw dinner parties, so we were always entertaining and getting people together. We felt we both brought something different to the table, a meeting of minds.’
How did the idea for a supper club start?
L: ‘We had both known of each other, and then met properly at a jumble sale, ‘Rumble in the Jumble, for Oxfam. There w’e decided we had to go for a coffee, we discussed our joint love for food, cooking and entertaining. After meeting we would send each other all kinds of inspiration, recipes, and new openings which both excited us!’
A: ‘The idea, initially started out with us throwing a dinner in Laura’s flat and as a soft launch we invited friends. As we did more and more of them our friends told their friends, and so on. Later down the line brands started to get in touch to work with us, which was amazing and meant we could really mix up the suppers.’
What was your first ever supper club like?
A: ‘It was only 16 people but at the time it felt like such an undertaking. And we were real sticklers for the details with personalised name places, typewriter typed menus. That’s the stuff we enjoy, but it definitely takes time.’
‘The evening was chaotic and noisy, in the best way. It went on until the small hours, and everyone left full and merry which is exactly what we wanted. We transformed Laura’s apartment too, so when we were mopping up at the end of the night and returning all furniture to its proper place, it was like it had all been a very exciting dream!’
L: ‘Lots of people made proper, lasting friendships at that first one. We introduced some great pals-to-be.’
What has been your biggest supper club disaster to date?!
L: ‘Imagine the hottest day of the year. We’re in my flat, cooking up lemon tarts, it was so warm, overwhelmingly warm, plus we had the oven on. The pastry was a sticky mess, the filling was curdling, we were both hot and sticky, the worktops were hot and sticky, and it was just very stressful to the point where we thought it best to call a friend to help! We ended up making 12, and only being able to use two.’
What is the key to hosting a great dinner party?
A: ‘Making people feel welcome and not to spend too much time in the kitchen once they arrive!’
L: ‘Even if you’re just having friends over for a takeaway, you can still always serve well with a gorgeous plate, flowers and textiles, it makes it so much more special, and the effort doesn’t go unnoticed’.
What are your favourite ingredients for a welcome drink?
L: ‘Without a doubt a Rhubarb Collins. Make a cordial and mix with champagne or prosecco. Place a big bit of rhubarb in the glass, it’ll make it pink!’
Where do you source your ingredients from and come up with new recipes?
A: ‘Eating out is a big influence. It’s a pleasure to see the new menus as the seasons go by at places like Petersham Nurseries, Spring and Rochelle Canteen. Another favourite is Duck Soup – we look at their menus all the time for inspiration, either for a supper club or just for dinner!
L: ‘Travelling, we love to find news spices! And when we’re in France, we always try and sneak new cheeses out. I always bring back salt or good olive oil for Alice when I’ve been away.
‘Shop at the green grocers as much as you can, your local butcher or fishmonger, this also supports your high-street, which we are very fond of doing. There’s an amazing online store, farmdrop.com, they’re great for meat!
What is your favourite aspect of having people over for dinner?
L: ‘We love entertaining, I think that comes across to our guests – it’s always a very relaxed and comfortable environment. Put the effort in, this really shows that you care.’
Is it possible to cook a great meal on a small budget?
L: ‘Absolutely. Cooking for large groups can work out so much more economical than cooking for two. In the winter you can cook a huge one pot dish like a casserole or stew and in the summer, have a barbeque! Barbeque vegetables, and a leg of lamb is a far cheaper option than cutlets.’
A: ‘Get people to bring dessert. If you’re struggling just make it a pot luck!’
Who do you look to for foodie inspiration?
A: ‘Magazines, we LOVE all the supplements! They’re great and so current, they always have new and exciting things. They also support younger, up-and-coming chefs’.
L: ‘There are lots of blogs we like. Sunday Suppers we love, she had so many great ideas and her photography is amazing. She is very stripped back, a sort of Scandinavian feel. Also, Frederik Bille Brahe, he has two of the coolest restaurants in Copenhagen, Café Atelier September and Apollo. He’s such a great chef, he does such interesting things – clean, refreshing and modern’.
How did the collaboration with Habitat come about?
L: ‘We have worked with Habitat for a long time now, they are amazing to work with, such lovely people. We worked with them on our linen range last year and our ceramics this year. We used to borrow things for our supper clubs which was amazing, they were so accommodating and we enjoyed using their products with our food’.
What are your favourite pieces from the new collection?
A: ‘The figurative plates, they are inspired by Picasso, Matisse and Christian Stanberg – an amazing illustrator’.
L: ‘I love the pink/red jug, inspired by an image of a fire station I saw on @accidentallywesanderson on Instagram’.
Your supper clubs always look amazing. Do you come up with a theme/concept for each table spread, or do you prefer mixing and matching styles?
L: ‘We are led by seasons, so when sourcing ingredients, flowers and tableware we like to see what’s out there at the time. It’s nice to work with the best the season has to offer’.
What are your favourite places to eat out in London?
Who would you most like to cook for and why?
A: ‘Graham Norton, Joe Lycett or Sharon Horgan would be perfect, the chemistry of the evening is very important, you can always order a pizza if you burn the food but you can’t invite different people!’
L: Claudia Winkelman, I would love to sit and listen to her talk!’
What is next on the horizon for Jackson & Levine?
A: ‘The Habitat collection comes out in May which we are extremely excited for, and we are both working on some really exciting TV projects, watch this space!’
Finally, what would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who want to set up their own business, be it a supper club or something similar?
L: ‘JUST DO IT! If people say no, make that give you the energy to carry on. Listening to podcasts, like Girl Boss Radio and How I Built This, let these spur you on and give you the strength.’
A: ‘Think carefully about whether want to make your passion your job, or if you want to just do more of it. We could always do supper clubs as a hobby and carry on doing our day job. And that is really rewarding (it’s what we did at the beginning). But if you want it to be your career, if you’re ready to make that leap, I think experience is the key – where or who can you learn from? Arming yourself with as much knowledge and real experience as you can will serve you so well.’
The Jackson & Levine collection is available now in stores and online. To shop the range go to habitat.co.uk/jacksonandlevine
Feature by Charlotte Page