America’s best cook is not a professionally trained chef or the owner of a hip restaurant. No, her name is Stephanie Goldfarb, and she is a Chicago-based clinical social worker.
Goldfarb started cooking at age six in her hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona, with the patient and encouraging guidance of her mother and a lot of Food Network TV shows. She moved to Chicago nearly a decade ago, and just a few years ago, faced with a challenge to raise money for the Chicago Women’s Health Center, she held a fundraiser dinner at her home.
That dinner was a wild success and sparked the Seven Species Supper Club & Catering (the name is a nod to her Jewish heritage), through which she hosts two seven-course, 14-person dinners a month (Saturday night and Sunday night, back to back), offering restaurant-quality and style food, served in the comfort of her home for a crowd of people of all ages and walks of life who don’t usually know each other.
Dinner attendees pay between $65 and $85 per person for the multi-course meal, and each month the proceeds support a different charity for women, children and/or LGBTQ individuals. They have become so well known that they usually sell out within 24 hours of being announced (menu included) through Goldfarb’s email newsletter.
With so much buzz building around her supper clubs, in 2014 Goldfarb’s friends encouraged her to go to an open call for the Food Network’s America’s Best Cook. She was cast, went on to two weeks of filming and eventually won the title and a $50,000 prize. Since then, she has been cast on Food Network’s Kitchen Inferno and NBC’s Food Fighters as well.
Despite her big wins, Goldfarb has kept up with her popular supper club. The suppers are always vegetarian, but each time guided by a different theme and season. Goldfarb loves experimenting, especially with homemade bread and pasta, doing detail work and combining different flavors. She draws inspiration from many places, but makes up all the recipes herself.
She plans the menus about a month in advance and starts cooking ten days before. A professional chef and friend named Nariba Shepherd helps her with both the menu planning and the cooking on supper nights.
The theme of the most recent supper was “Comfort Food, Reimagined” and featured “American classics with inspiration from Thai, Chinese and Japanese ingredients, as well as beautiful, seasonal produce,” such as “Sloppy Joe Bao” and “Thai Fried Banana Icebox Cake,” while a “Jewsian” dinner included soba noodle kugel and matzah ball pho. Although meticulously plated and sophisticated in taste, Goldfarb serves what she calls “comforting, warm and approachable food” that is “never fussy.”
For Goldfarb, a clinical social worker who works with teens at Chicago’s Jewish Federation, another one of her passions, when she is not cooking and planning suppers, Seven Species is a natural way of combining tikkun olam (repairing the world) with her love of cooking and hosting.
As for her television appearances, “I grew up watching these people [chefs Michael Symon, Cat Cora, Tyler Florence, Elizabeth Faulkner and more] on television; now I’m one of them. It’s a dream come true,” says Goldfarb.
All photos courtesy of Stephanie Goldfarb (photo credit: Stephanie Strauss).