Philly Faces: Amanda Shulman

Amanda Shulman, a white woman with dark haired tied back wearing a chef coat and dark apron, is preparing to plate her dish in an array of white bowls laid out in front of her.
Amanda Shulman | Courtesy of Amanda Shulman

Amanda Shulman, 29, grew up eating Shabbat dinner with her family almost every week. It was such a sacred time that her parents imposed a rule: no going out with friends on Friday nights. Instead, as a loophole, Shulman and her siblings would invite friends over to their “revolving dinner table.”

Learning to cook Shabbat meals with her grandmothers in the kitchen, Shulman quickly fell in love with feeding others, and she began cooking dinner for her family every night while she was in high school.

Her epicurean skills honed through spells as a chef at Amis Trattoria — once part of the Marc Vetri restaurant empire — and The Bakeshop on 20th, Shulman grew her desire to feed others.

The prototype of a full dining room on Shabbat evolved into a supper club she hosted in her tiny University of Pennsylvania apartment, then a pop-up concept and now the semi-permanent Her Place supper club with its home at 1740 Sansom St.

Was there a dish growing up that you remember your family making that really stuck with you?

Every Friday night we would make roast chicken — roast chicken with vegetables.

It was also all about the holidays: my great aunt’s stuffed Cornish hens — like the craziest thing ever. I remember eating them once a year at her house for Rosh Hashanah with apple cake. 

What else? And my grandma’s baked salami — kosher baked salami covered in sugar-mustard glaze.

Have you found that the way you ate growing up has influenced how you cook?

Definitely. It’s abundant, and it should make you feel good, and [it’s] not too complicated. 

I’m one of four kids; everyone besides me had a picky-eater phase. So my mom would have to make three different things, and there was always just so much concern that there was never going to be enough, so that’s definitely something I have taken. 

I really love spreads and a lot of things on the table at once, just to give everyone some options.

Cooking with your family growing up, cooking in restaurants under chef mentors, what are some lessons you’ve learned?

Work ethic is inherent not necessarily learned, but just how to put your head down and learn and just listen, really how to listen. How to soak up everything you can from an opportunity.

Recognizing you can literally learn from every single person, whether … it’s a sous chef, whether it’s a dishwasher … you can learn from everybody. You just have to be like a sponge. 

It’s also a relationship business. So don’t burn a bridge and be respectful. Just know that everyone is connected. That’s really important. And just being nice, constantly. Just being kind can go a long way, especially in today’s kitchen culture.

You are pretty adamant about making a distinction between a supper club and a restaurant. What are the differences between those two concepts?

Honestly, the real truth is by not saying I’m a restaurant, I have a lot more flexibility. By not defining myself as really anything, I can kind of change the rules. 

It gives the customer a different expectation — or no expectation, really — in a good way. Because how many restaurants have you been to where there’s a set of rules: You go in, you sit down, you order; you act in a certain way? You expect an appetizer, an entree, a dessert and a side, and we are just, like, ‘Nope, that’s not how we play.’

By not calling ourselves a restaurant, it gives us a lot more freedom and flexibility to bend the rules.

What are some ways in which you bend the rules?

We’re open basically four days a week maximum. We don’t do dietary substitutions. There’s plenty of food; if you don’t like something, eat more of something else, or come another time. 

The menu changes every two weeks, but it really changes like every day, based off of what I can get or what I’m excited about. A conversation I have will literally change an entire menu. 

We only release reservations every two weeks, and it’s definitely crazy to say this, but we basically run this entire restaurant off of social media.

Who would your dream dinner guest be? 

My grandma passed away two years ago. I wish she could come. She’s probably my No. 1 person who I wish I could feed.

It’s not just being like a dinner guest. I want to cook for you … but it’s just such a different environment than a regular restaurant. It’s kind of like a dinner party. You’re walked through your whole meal, so you can’t just be a food person, you have to be a good time — are you adding to the atmosphere? My grandma checks all the boxes, so she’ll be my answer.

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