Julia Ziegler-Haynes, Artist and Founder The Dinner Bell Supper Club
A self-described "artsy" kid from Maine, Julia Ziegler-Haynes comes from a family that's "big into cooking." And some things never change. At 32, Ziegler-Haynes is not only responsible for some truly challenging artwork, she's also the one-woman army behind one of New York's most beloved, "secret" supper clubs. Like many others of its kind popping up all around New York, The Dinner Bell is helping to change the way we think of a night out or an evening meal. Unlike those others, however, this one offers four courses conceived, cooked, and served by someone who considers dinner an art form. So, we pulled Ziegler-Haynes away from the kitchen long enough to see how she went from R.I.S.D. to dinner, and how soggy pizza is just bad art.
Now you've got a background in the arts and even a degree from the Rhode Island School of Design; however did you wind up working with food of all things?
"I moved to New York after graduating, and, like many artists, fell into waitressing as a way to keep me afloat. I loved the pace of working a busy dinner shift, seeing people come and go. There's plenty to loathe about the job — but I loved working with food and the hosting dynamic.”
And how did a waitressing job turn into running your own supper club?
"I was fortunate to work in some really forward-thinking restaurants that helped shape the way so many of us eat today. They left a huge impression on me. I was always interested in what was going on behind the kitchen door and, soon enough, I was cooking more and more at home and for friends. Shortly after leaving my waitressing gig, I started my monthly Supper Club in Williamsburg. There, I wear all hats — hostess, cook, florist, server, and, most regrettably, dishwasher!”
Do you see any link between your arts background and what you do now?
“Cooking for me is a creative endeavor. I pull from the same part of my brain to conceptualize a sculpture as I do a meal. Lots of things come into play: memory, humor, and balancing color and texture aesthetics. With something so tactile, that you make with your hands, that is then delivered to another person to take in and consume — how is that not art? Obviously, it seems like a stretch to think of soggy, undercooked pizza as the embodiment of artistic genius, but I feel the same way about a lot of shit I see in galleries.”
And what are people looking for when they come to one of your dinners? What do they find?
“I think people come to my dinners for a change of routine — it’s not a typical night out in the city. First, guests don't order off a menu — all four courses are predetermined. There’s no hustle to it either. Nobody is in a rush to get you in, fed, and out the door. Dinners typically last around four hours, so people really have time to linger and interact — it's more ceremonious in nature.”
And what’s surprised you the most about The Dinner Bell?
“Even in a city as vast as New York, I’m constantly witnessing how interconnected we all are. There have been more occasions than I can count where people have shown up to dinners, not expecting to know a soul, and — BOOM! — they bump into an old college roommate or colleague from 10 years ago…or their ex!”
And if you could set a table for any four people — living or dead — who would they be?
“Dom DeLuise seemed jolly and festive and was obviously into food. I think he would be the loudmouth firecracker that keeps the opposite ends of the table interacting. He could also be the worst guest imaginable — it's a gamble. Sir Paul McCartney seems like he'd be a gracious guest. I'd invite him not only for his storytelling capabilities, but I think he could really get into our vegetable-driven menu — in exchange, maybe he could pick which records to play during dinner. If there was a lag between courses, Issac Mizrahi could entertain fellow guests with his Eartha Kitt impressions. Also, no dinner party is complete without some sass, preferably from a fashionable man. Oh, and Oprah. I want to hear the noises she makes when she dips into the fourth course...dessert, duh.”
Styled by Lauren Edelstein; Hair and Makeup by Bethany Brill.
Photographed at Edi & The Wolf, 102 Avenue C; 212-598-1040.