Starting a Cooking Club: The Planner's Story
The summer of 2013 I read Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist.
The book was recommended by my church as part of their summer book club series and piqued my interest as it was a “collection of essays about family, friendships and the meals that bring us together.” It also included a few recipes and as someone who loves to cook (and eat) I figured it would be a fun, quick read. Little did I know, this book would move me to action – using food and wine to bring people together and over time become so much more.
It was in my early twenties that I really started to enjoy cooking – trying new recipes, spending hours to make a special meal and experimenting with different flavors. I remember learning so much by just watching others in the kitchen and seeing how simple things such as fresh herbs and the actual presentation of a dish could make all the difference. I don’t claim to be a master chef by any means, but most importantly I enjoy the process and labor or love that goes into cooking a good meal and (most of time – yet, there have been some failures!) others seem to enjoy them too.
Yet, just like Niequist shared in her book, I think what has always brought me the most joy is the gift of community that happens when eating a good meal and sharing a bottle (or two) of wine around a table. Some of my fondest memories (yet, note not all are necessarily happy) are linked to food and fellowship. So, that September after reading Bread and Wine I was craving the need to connect more regularly with friends and thought why not through cooking? So with girlfriends scattered across Atlanta all with varying schedules and interests I casted a wide net and sent an email to about twenty plus women (some who I knew well and some who were more acquaintances) and asked “who wants to join me in starting a cooking club?”
Our first gathering was hosted at my house and I made most of the meal just asking people to bring drinks or dessert. It was Mexican themed (my favorite!) – chicken enchiladas, sautéed corn and poblanos, homemade salsa, etc. I wanted our first gathering to one where people could just get to know one another and plan how our “club” would work. We sat around the table for a couple of hours – telling our stories – where we grew up, how we met our husbands, what we enjoyed doing, what we did for a living, plans for the future, etc. I knew everyone except for Holly (who Brooke had invited) but still learned something new about everyone that night and was impressed how honest and open everyone was from the start.
From that first night, we took off – rotating houses, meeting once a month - usually on Tuesday nights. The host picks a theme for the dinner and provides the entrée. They then assign others a dish category such as a salad, side, appetizer, dessert or drink to bring so we have a complete meal. We originally had a Google Doc we used to capture our theme and recipes, but that quickly went by the wayside. However, we do keep a Pinterest board which has a fair amount of the recipes we have tried over the years. Also, during some months we jazz things up a bit by doing a weekend event that includes spouses and/or kids, girl get-away weekends, or our regular standing Christmas Tea each December at various hotels.
As time has evolved though, so has our group – we now find ourselves all moms of young children, some have moved further out into the Atlanta suburbs, and there have been many life and/or career changes. However, through it all we all have remained committed to our cooking club and that is because gathering with friends around the table each month has nurtured not only our love of food but fellowship. We are doing life together and I never would have imagined that what started as a cooking club would turn into so much more. Even on my worse day – when I don’t feel my best, had a long day at work, feel guilty for leaving my family, or just really tired – it would be easy for me to say “Hey girls, I’ll catch you next month” but you know what I find? When I go – I always come home rejunivented, happy and so thankful for such wonderful friends. They support me, laugh with (and at times at me), and push me in ways I would never have imagined (such as writing this blog!) I look forward to our monthly gatherings and know each month will bring something new.
I take much pride in my cooking club, because it is there that, “I feel honored to create a place around my table, a place of laughing and crying, for being seen and heard, for telling stories and creating memories (Bread and Wine, p.251).” I hope many of you will be inspired by our story and if so look into starting your own cooking club. Let’s create more fellowship over food and wine.
Tips for Starting Your Own Cooking Club
- Keep the group manageable. Six is a good number because everyone can sit at a table together which helps in creating authentic relationships.
- Pick a regular day of the week and starting time for each month. We do Tuesday’s at 7:30. We usually just confirm a date month by month but it may also help to set a calendar for a few months at a time.
- You don’t need rules but you need a plan (and usually an organizer) to ensure the group will continue to meet month to month. In our case this person was me (hence the nickname “The Planner” but usually there is one in every group!). For us, we rotate homes and the host selects a theme and makes the entrée. They then assign others a dish category such as a salad, side, appetizer, dessert or drink to bring so there is a complete meal. The dishes can be anything that match the theme.
- Keep track of your themes and your recipes! This is something we haven’t done very well and looking back I wish we had a list of the themes we have done each month. We do have a Pinterest board where we have posted many of our recipes, but it still doesn’t capture everything we have made.
- Include wine at every meal. Trust me. Moms need wine.
- Vary from your regular monthly night a few times a year. We have gone to a restaurant a time or two, taken a cooking class, had family bbqs, attended Christmas teas and did a girl weekend get-away.
- Have fun. Your recipes may not always turn out perfect, but they make for a good laugh. Sometimes it is ok just to be the person who brings the wine (or the store bought food disguised as homemade). It is the memories made while enjoying the food (and wine) that matter.
This contribution is from our Swell Mama Michelle!