As the owner and operator of the popular Mays Landing bakery Brownies Squared, Chris Groome has a passion for the confectionery end of the culinary spectrum.
Groome opened the shop in 2010 after nearly two decades in the culinary industry, most of that spent in fine dining, rather than baking. But while the bakery has satisfied his sweet tooth, the chef hasn't strayed far from the kitchen.
In summer 2011, Groome invited Mays Landing residents to a picnic featuring a full meal rather than just his typical dessert offerings. The picnic was well-received.
"I did a couple things at the bakery," Groome said. "I cooked, and people were like, 'this is great.' I decided to try a dinner."
Since early 2012, Groome has held monthly tasting dinners, dubbed the Super Secret Supper Club, at his bakery. The dinners are lightly advertised through Brownies Squared's Facebook page and through word of mouth, leading to its "secret" moniker. The price is $65 for hors d'oeuvres and nine courses, and Groome only offers a dozen spots at a given dinner. Each course is about three to five bites, and Groome never repeats a course.
Despite the significant price increase over his shop's typical offerings, Groome said he makes little money off his dinners. Additionally, he has to tweak the menu outside his normal hours, and for the already hard-working businessman, the time adds up.
Still, Groome said he enjoys putting on the dinners.
"It's not a big money maker, and it's a whole lot of work, but it kind of gets other people's interest in the bakery or gets new people to stop by," Groome said.
His most recent dinner, held Jan. 13, took on a different format from previous dinners. While all others have been held at Brownies Squared, this one was held at the Ram's Head Inn in Galloway Township as a collaboration with chef Jason Holmstrom.
Holmstrom, a Mays Landing resident and a frequent patron of Brownies Squared, has personally attended a few of Groome's dinners. This time around, he got to participate, coming up with four dishes himself.
"I totally enjoyed it," Holmstrom said. "It was totally cool. It was all about the experience. My hat's off to Chris, absolutely. I'm glad I could be a part of that."
The eight-course menu featured a variety of delights, from veal sweetbread ravioli with wild mushroom ragout to porcini-dusted lamb T-bone with red pepper gastrique and crispy mint.
Unlike at Brownies Squared, which doesn't have a liquor license, each course was paired with a specially selected wine.
Bargaintown resident Courtenay Cicchino attended the dinner with her husband, Albert.
In their third time attending one of Groome's dinners, they said they were as impressed as ever.
"I'm a sweets person, so the dessert was my favorite course," Cicchino said. "My husband really enjoyed the lamb, but, I mean, everything with Chris, everything is delicious and always creative. "
Twenty diners were invited by Brownies Squared, and 11 were invited by the Ram's Head, but at the Jan. 13 dinner, all were fans of both chefs.
Before the dinner was even done, attendees were asking Groome when he would again join with the Ram's Head for such a feast. Groome, who enjoyed the collaboration but is unsure of its future course, was vague.
"People were already asking, when are you going to do another one there," Groome said. "I had to be diplomatic and say we'll have to see because I still want to do mine at the bakery."
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