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Feb 2, 2008 12:14 PM

Cooking Club members: How To?

A topic I've never seen addressed in my time here: cooking clubs. Groups of people who love to cook, hosting meals on a rotational or pot-luck basis, cooking up great grub.

Would you relate your experiences? I'd like to get one started; not sure how to go about it, or what parameters need to be....

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  1. We've been members of the same group for about seven years now. There are ten of us in our group, this seems to be a size that works really well for us.

    We meet monthly for about ten months a year, breaking during the summer.

    We alternate between meeting at someone's home and picking a local restaurant to try.

    On the month's we meet at a home the host or hostess decides the theme and menu. He/she is responsible for the main course and assigns the other dishes to the others who make their dish and bring it. We always have appetizer, soup and/or salad, entree and dessert of some sort. We've had all kinds of themes: by country, season, ingredient, geographical location, interactive(ravioli making, waffle brunches, etc), holiday, costume...

    For the months we meet at restaurants, we mutually agree on a place while we're all together and someone takes responsibility for calling for a reservation and organizing with the restaurant. We usually pick inexpensive ethnic places(going for Indian next Saturday for example) but have tried some higher end places as well. Usually we're able to order off the menu but sometimes we've organized a set menu for the evening.

    We all get along well and have no picky eaters. it's worked our really well and we've had a lot of fun(and memorable meals)

    3 Replies
    1. re: ziggylu

      I'd be interested in hearing how you got organized to start. Were you all experienced cooks to begin with so it was a sharing experience, or have you done experimenting as you go? All the same level of kitchen expertise, or are there mentors among you?

      1. re: toodie jane

        My sister actually organized this on the cooking light bulletin board. I admit I thought she was nuts but agreed to give it a try....she found a group of people that lived in our area via the CL board and we all agreed to meet and have lunch to see if we could organize ourselves.

        We met and laid out basic "rules" of how we all thought we might like to do things....we've pretty much stayed with the same way of doing things and haven't had to modify much. As I mentioned the host/hostess gets control of the theme and menu when ti's their turn...they plan and then let us know what our dish is sending the recipe. We do have the option to make something else if 1) we can't find an ingredient or 2) really can't/don't want to make something. This happens rarely but it's never a big deal when it does and is usually run by the host/hostess first.

        As for cooking varied widely. Some folks had cooked professionally, others were very accomplished home cooks. Some were people who loved great food but weren't too confident in their skills...but it's all worked out just fine. There hasn't been any necessarily active mentoring but most certainly everyone has learned something over the years....which is seen in more complicated menus and dishes maybe from the people who weren't as confident in the beginning.

        It's been fun and interesting...I will say as we were all - with the exception of my sister adn mysef and our spouses - total strangers at the beginning....these aren't folks I would have normally crossed paths with and befriended in life. Yet we've all become a very close group, wtih the friendships surpassing the food and becoming the real reason for our gatherings these days.

        Financially, I'd say we're all about the same income there really isn't too much pressure about expenses. We don't do anything extraordinary anyhow and our restaurant choices are typically very modest. Since we rotate the main courses that expense evens out and gives the host the option of how much they want to spend. We've had everything from lobster and prime rib to humble meatloaf as the main and never a complaint about something being too "cheap" People resist the urge to assign things with really expensive or hard to find ingredients...and when a recipe is sent out with something that may be a bit harder to find a note is typically attached from the host along the lines of "if you can't find this...don't worry...sub something out or make something else!"

        it's definitely been a good experience. Give it a try and have fun. Don't get too caught up in the hows and whys. Be willing to go with the flow...

        1. re: ziggylu

          I had exactly the same experience with a CL group I joined in Chicago 5-7 years ago. We were strangers with different levels of cooking experience and taste, but it was an interesting way to connect with folks and see homes in other parts of the city. (Though the recipes were all healthied-up fare from the magazine, there was always so much that we'd call it "Eating Heavy.")

          We were all women, but we'd also sometimes invite friends/partners to join. The group eventually disbanded as other priorities took over, but I miss it. I even recently joined a book group that I've bullied into serving or going out for the food particular to each book's setting.

    2. I've had several different experiences while living in North Carolina, in the Triangle area. I don't know how much this applies else where but these are the ones I participated in.

      "Supper Clubs" - Social group was about 6-7 couples who meet bimonthly, rotating houses each time. Usually free form potluck. The couples were established friends from the same social circle/country club and housing development. Drawback was some repetition of bringing the same dish to each event.

      Another "supper club" system was organized by my university to facilitate socialization of new staff/faculty with established faculty/staff. Groups were 5-6 couples, meeting bimonthly. Usually in same or similar departments. Rotated location each time between homes. Hosts would determine theme of dinner and assign recipes to participants. Drawback was that some people didn't "click" and others found the assigned recipes expensive or beyond their skill level.

      International "cooking club" -Volunteer program under the aegis of international student life spouses' program. I ran this one for several years, after the original organizers returned to their home countries. Group membership ranged from 6 -22 people, depending on contracts offered by the university. During the academic term, we meet once a week at a regular location. People signed up for the date of their choice. There is no monetary membership fee, but individuals are responsible for full participation. At a typical session, the "chef" would pass out recipes, direct prep work and demonstrate the appropriate techniques. After the cooking was done, we would sit down to eat what we had made and while dining, discuss the food and whatever else was of current interest. The program was designed to encourage cultural exchange among members, so everyone helped with all aspects.The menu and food supplies was the chef's responsibility. Occasionally, we had outings to local ethnic markets, farmer's markets, the state fair and u-pick farms for seasonal crops. We have a cookie exchange for winter holidays and a Valentine's potluck, which everyone is asked to bring a dish that they consider romantic. They also had to be prepared to explain to the group why.A typical session ran about 3 hours.

      International potlucks. This was an offshoot of the international cooking club, which I also organized. For the internationals unable to join our weekly cooking sessions, but still wanted to participate, we held regular potlucks. Attendance- anywhere from 2-36 people, depending on the time of year. People are encouraged to bring friends, spouses and offspring, It was mostly free form, although to give it some structure, I would state either the protein course I was making and/or what "feast" we were celebrating. We celebrated, Chinese New Year, St. Patrick's, ANZAC day, birthdays,baby showers Summer solstice, poolside, Thanksgiving, etc. . . and as soon as it was warm enough to eat outside, we grilled regularly.Location varied depending on time of year but usually at the university's International House.

      More details available, if wanted, but I don't want to bore people too much. . .

      Hope this helps.

      1 Reply
      1. re: alycon

        wow-- I'll bet you've met some fascinating people! thanks for the detailed account.

      2. Some time back, a number of couples seemed to attend many of the same cooking classes my dh and I were taking; both at the community college and at a county cooking school. Out of those frequent and unplanned meetups developed a club of sorts. Today there are 5 couples or 10 of us meeting to cook together or dine together.

        We place ideas for at home menus and restauarants in a "hat" and take turns picking where our next adventure/meal will be.

        We've traveled together on 4 day cruises, stayed at B&B's and enjoyed dine arounds advertised in the newspaper as well.

        This summer a few of us have children graduating school and we're planning a club party for them.

        Good luck to you!

        1. thanks to all who've responded. Sounds like it is not an organizational nightmare, which I had feared. I suppose it can be as structured or freeform as everybody agrees to.

          I used to belong to a monthly work co-op with 5 other couples, and we always did a potluck at the end of the day. After a whole day of painting, weeding, building, cleaning, etc, there were some seriously good eats. Many good memories.

          1. I belonged to a cooking dinner group for a couple years. We had 4 couples, met every 2 months and planned our recipes around a theme or holiday like St. Patricks Day, Springtime, etc. We would rotate homes, the host would make the entree and everyone else would make the additional dishes. It was fun trying new foods that most people wouldn't make or typically try. I think it is time to start this up again.

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