Lauren Lombardi grew up in a large, close-knit extended family. With a father who was one of eight children, and a mother who was one of three, aunts, uncles and cousins abounded, and many of them lived nearby while she was growing up in Miller Place, in a family whose name is well known in the food and catering industry in Suffolk County. A constant during Lombardi’s formative years were Sunday dinners, when various family members would faithfully gather around the table for a big meal.
That tradition meant a lot to Lombardi, so it is perhaps not a surprise that she went on to run a successful market and catering business — Lombardi’s Love Lane Market in Mattituck — as an adult. It is also no surprise that Lombardi is drawn to events and causes that foster the importance of gathering at the table for meals. On Jan. 25, Lombardi will host a collaborative dinner with the global organization Sunday Suppers, as part of its “Sobremesa” series.
Sunday Suppers was created nine years ago by photographer and cook Karen Mordechai, as a way “to bring together good friends and food,” according to her website. Sobremesa is its new global dinner series, which features chefs from cities and locales around the world putting their own spin on a menu curated by Sunday Suppers. Lombardi is one of those chefs, and the North Fork is one of 22 locations participating in a fall/winter series of dinners, along with cities like Mallorca, Jakarta, Melbourne, Mexico City and Stockholm, among others.
A few tickets ($125 each) are still available, but the dinner, which will be hosted at Shinn Estate Vineyards, is expected to be sold out soon, maxing out at around 25 people to ensure an intimate setting. Guests will dine on a menu that includes smoked cheese and pickled fruit; congee (a type of Asian rice cereal) with turmeric, garlic chips and egg; crispy chicken or cauliflower “steak” with black garlic, olives and charred lemon; olive oil mashed potatoes; and apple crostata. Guests will also take home a bit of extra food knowledge, as all the dinners also include a cooking class demonstration. Those in attendance will learn how to pickle fruit.
“Sobremesa” refers to the time after the meal when the food is gone but the conversation continues. Proceeds from the dinner will go to The Hunger Project, a global program that uses a holistic approach to make sustainable progress in overcoming hunger and poverty.
Lombardi said last month that the concept behind Sunday Suppers has long resonated with her, partly because of her upbringing, and also because she has experienced what they do. Lombardi participated in the early iteration of Sunday Suppers at Mordechai’s home in Brooklyn eight years ago and said she loved the spirit of a group of food enthusiasts coming together and sharing a meal. When she heard in September that Sunday Suppers was looking to expand and bring the concept wider reach globally, and that the organizers were specifically interested in a North Fork location, she contacted them.
“I just really wanted to do it,” she said. “I was thinking of an outdoor event in the vines at first, with a long table, but since it’s in the winter, I scaled it back and thought of somewhere that would be cozy and fun in January.”
Shinn Estate Vineyards came to mind right away, Lombardi said, and she is planning an intimate setting in the vineyard’s wine cellar.
Lombardi and her team do not create the menu, but will use local ingredients to bring it to life, partnering with Browder’s Birds of Mattituck and Sang Lee Farms of Peconic. She explained the concept behind hosting the dinners and how the collaboration with Sunday Suppers works, saying she and the other hosts are more like ambassadors for the organization.
“What I think is cool is that, globally, we’re all coming together, with all the different hosts, to have this dinner, yet each one will be tailored specifically to the community we’re in,” she said. “’But we’re all celebrating this menu.”
Lombardi will undoubtedly use the same skill and attention to detail for the event that has earned her a strong reputation as a caterer, but the spirit that’s behind all the effort is just as important, if not more so, than the food and decor.
“It’s really just about connecting,” she said. “I don’t think we do enough of that. It’s all social media and scrolling on our phones. Even though it’s so basic to come around the table, this is a time when we really need to do that. I think this will just be a way to connect with people in a way that we really should be doing, and to meet new people.”
Lombardi will bring those beliefs into the dinner, and she said she’s excited to host and to use her skills and expertise not only to benefit a good cause, but to continue the spirit of what was instilled in her from her youth.
“It was very important in my family,” she said. “We’d invited friends and family and neighbors, whoever wanted to come over. I know it’s cheesy, but it did make me who I am. I love to host and I love to cater, and even when I cater large events and weddings, that feeling is always at the core. I’m just happy to do it, because I feel like I’m bringing people to the table, and I think that value is something that I was brought up on, and really carved out what’s important to me now.
Lombardi said she isn’t sure who the guests will be, but is happy to meet them and share her passion for food and connection with them.
‘I’m excited to see who’s going to be there,” she said. “You can’t go wrong when there’s good food, good wine, and a good setting.”