A request for a low-key birthday dinner should be simple enough to pull off amongst friends. But if your friends are Lara Ortiz-Luis and Garrett Schlichte, it could also turn into an event. Ortiz-Luis and Schlichte are the minds behind Virgo Supperclub, an occasional dinner party-style event the duo throws for friends and strangers. After that fateful birthday dinner request from a friend, Ortiz-Luis and Schlichte came up with a theme — Botanical Disco — and created an inventive six-course plated meal with wine pairings and decorations. Others who attended urged the pair to do more dinners, and the next day the two friends formed Virgo Supperclub, so named because Ortiz-Luis and Schlichte are both Virgos.
Although the pair aren’t classically trained chefs with a ton of restaurant experience, they’ve managed to carve out a party scene that’s spread well beyond their group of friends. Besides the Botanical Disco, the twosome has created dishes inspired by quotes from the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada including a pavlova and lemon curd dessert based around a line about eggs. The dishes are also emblematic of Ortiz-Luis and Schlichte’s cooking styles, which they say are complementary.
Ortiz-Luis grew up in the food business through her family-owned restaurant and bakery chain. She says their flavor profiles tend to lean tangy and briny, with seafood, pickles, and fresh produce often working their way onto the plate. Think lemon ricotta dumplings; pumpkin miso butter with black sesame balls; a zhushed up halo-halo dessert with caramelized plantains, multi-colored boba, and pandan pavlova; and a confited and fried potato pavé, served with cultured sour cream and MSG, which she named, “I Fucking Love Sour Cream.” Oh, and there’s a spicy shallot aioli, a dinner party favorite, that has been dubbed “Fuck Sauce.” “The first time I made it, someone said, ‘What is this sauce? It fucks.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, well now it’s called Fuck Sauce,’” Schlichte says.
The pair’s sense of humor and style lead the way at these dinners, and while the food is a serious centerpiece, they don’t want it to feel elitist or pretentious. For example, the duo also described the food as “slutty, spooky, slurpy, and crunchy,” and they do their best to accommodate any food allergies. Drinks, meanwhile, are a thought-out addition with options like a tomato water martini or a tom yum bloody mary. They can also create non-alcoholic options by request. “‘Unctuous botanical disco’ is the constant vibe,” Schlichte says. “I want it to be a place where fun, different, elevated food feels accessible and exciting.” Ortiz-Luis says she’s running in the opposite direction of fine-dining rooms, like the one depicted in The Menu, creating something different and more fitting for San Francisco. “It’s like you are in a club, but it’s a fun club, and it’s an inclusive club, and you’re gonna eat really good food here, and it is going to look really beautiful, but first and foremost it’s going to taste good,” Ortiz-Luis says. “The other thing is we’re a little irreverent, we’re gay, we’re multicultural, we’re pushing the envelope and we’re very unapologetic.”
Now Schlichte is putting Virgo Supperclub on the TV map, so to speak: he’s one of the contestants on America’s Test Kitchen: The Next Generation which is now airing on Amazon Prime. Schlichte landed in the final three spots and is set to compete for the grand prize in the season finale, airing Friday, February 10. It’s an exciting turn for Schlichte who, when asked about his previous food experience, enunciated that his professional food experience — “I’m doing heavy air quotes,” he says over the phone — includes a stint at a fast-casual Asian restaurant while in high school, home cooking, these supper clubs, and then a back of house turn at Oakland’s Hi Felicia and pop-up the Mushroom when the competition wrapped filming in July 2022. Both Ortiz-Luis and Schlichte auditioned for the show, and Ortiz-Luis says it’s been great to see Schlichte grow in his skillset, presence, and style. “Garrett, I really feel like you just threw yourself into this in the past five years and it’s so wonderful to see you come into your own,” Ortiz-Luis tells Schlichte. “You know what your style is, translated from your own personal brand into food.”
The winner of the competition gets $100,000 and a cookbook deal, and while Schlichte couldn’t divulge the results ahead of the finale, Virgo Supperclub is at the top of his mentions in show interviews so he’s brought the supper club along for the ride. Next, the duo is looking to continue developing the dinners; expanding into larger, better-equipped spaces; scaling up to bring more people in; and collaborating with others. “Part of the reason why I’d gone on the show was, I don’t know what I want the rest of my life to look like and I think Virgo Supperclub, and especially Lara, has just made this city feel like home and like I’m really going in the right direction of what I want to be doing,” Schlichte says. “And that just feels really special to me.”