By Cheri Scolari
I’m actually not a Jersey girl. For the last thirty years I have been slowly migrating east. Originally a native to California, my husband’s work took us from Los Angeles to Chicago and eventually we wound up at the Jersey Shore, clear on the other side of the country. The one thing that I noticed as I moved from place to place is that food just naturally brings people together. Whenever I moved into a new home I looked for other people who liked to eat, liked to cook and liked to talk about food as much as I did. Before you knew it, we had a gourmet group assembled. It’s a great way to make friends quickly!
If you have never been involved in a gourmet group or a cooking club, you may want to start your own! There are a myriad of ways to put a group together, so it’s a good idea to put some thought into it ahead of time. For example: Will it be a couple’s affair, a mom’s (or dad’s) night out, or an eclectic mix of friends? How many people do you want to include? Do you want the event to be more structured or very casual? We were in a more structured gourmet group in Chicago, where one person or couple hosted the event and was responsible for selecting the theme of the dinner, the menu and all of the recipes. That host prepared the entrée and distributed the rest of the recipes to the other members. The host duty rotated to someone else the following dinner. In Los Angeles we were in a less structured setting, where an overall theme was chosen and then everyone found his or her own recipes. With my current cooking circle, we are so laid back that we skip the theme and just pick our recipes and cook whatever we’re feeling that day!
Here are some other points to consider when you are organizing your gourmet group:
- Do you want to do both the cooking and the eating together or would you rather cook at home individually and then bring the finished product to the soiree?
- Do you want everyone to bring a copy of the recipe to share?
- Would you like to stay at one home all evening or have a progressive dinner where each course is eaten at a different house? (My parents and their friends have had a progressive dinner every December for years and love it!)
If you decide to go with a theme, regional dinners are an excellent way to start. Through the years my groups have chosen French, Mexican and North African, to name a few. If you select a North African dinner, be sure to check out Les Moulins Mahjoub Collection which offers the finest products from Tunisia, such as hand rolled couscous that is dried in the sun, traditional harissa spread, preserved lemons and wild mountain capers packed in salt. If you are leaning towards a Mexican theme, try a recipe or two from chef and Mexican food expert Rick Bayless, like these Grill-Braised Short Ribs. Once you’ve decided on a particular theme for the food, you can get as creative as you’d like with the table décor, music, and even attire.
One of our more memorable gourmet groups was an event that we hosted in Chicago in the dead of winter. The dinner was a Wild Game and Wine Tasting dinner with four couples. Each couple brought a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon in a paper bag and we added a ringer for fun. We tasted and graded the wines then dined on wild boar sausage, elk and venison. Several people were surprised by the meats, not gamey, but rather rich and flavorful. If you’d like to try a wild game dinner, Sickles butcher shop carries a variety of wild game products, from whole rabbits and venison medallions to buffalo patties and rabbit pork ginger sausages. Venison medallions are one of my favorites, especially when prepared as Pan SearedVenison with Rosemary and Dried Cherries. You can also use ruby port to deglaze the pan instead of red wine for an even sweeter flavor.
If you have not experienced a cooking group yet, it’s time to take the leap! Find a few friends and set the date. If you like to eat, like to cook and like to talk about food, you’ll have a great time, wherever you are.
Cheri the Cheesemonger