Thinking of Starting a Cooking Group?
Don't wait another day!
We are Las Chicas, and we've been a cooking group for the past 5+ years. Let me tell you about us and the other cooking groups I’ve been a part of before I suggest ways for starting a group of your own.
At the end of a New Year’s Day party, Jeanette, Peggy, Sheree, and I were talking about how we enjoyed learning how to cook new foods. We had the same passion for food, so it seemed natural to schedule a lunch. Sheree started by teaching us how to make Spanish omelets, which are nothing like what Americans think of as omelets. Also called tortilla Española, it is a potato and egg dish that sometimes contains onions and garlic.
The afternoon was so much fun that we decided to make it a monthly event. It turned out that each of us specialized in different ethnic foods, so we had a lot to share. Peggy taught us to make French crepes and Chinese egg rolls. Her daughter-in-law, who lives in China, cooked an enormous, multi-course, authentic Chinese meal for the group when she visited the U.S. I don’t think any of us ate for days! Sheree specialized in Spanish cooking, and Jeanette cooked Peruvian recipes from her family. I cooked Mexican and Indian food, making flour tortillas and explaining the uses of mustard oil.
Through the years, we shared more than food. We shared each other’s ups and downs. Births and deaths, children going to college, health scares, and the day-to-day details of life. We didn’t always cook. Sometimes we went to restaurants, and we went to Peru for a week to visit some of Jeanette’s family. We didn’t get together every month, but we always scheduled the next luncheon.
Unfortunately, our last scheduled event was a week ago. My impending move will make it impossible for me to attend. I hope Las Chicas will add a fourth member and continue without me. I will miss them! The following picture is the outstanding salmon dish Jeanette served. Jeanette, please share the recipe!
This was my fourth cooking group. The first one was in Texas with a neighbor. At 4 pm every Sunday, Kerry and I sat down and planned a three-course meal — appetizer, main meal, and dessert. We went to the grocery and then cooked dinner. Our husbands did whatever husbands do when women get together, but they were always ready when dinner was finally served. Every recipe was new, so we always learned something. We served a salad with every meal, and I learned how unlimited the options are for dressings. I think this is the reason I like to cook new things all the time. During the eight years, we each had two children, but we continued the tradition. Of course, things changed. We planned menus ahead of time, repeated recipes, and ended the nights earlier, but it was every Sunday until we moved to Wisconsin.
The next two cooking groups were with the Newcomer’s Association, so we were thrown into a group of people we didn’t know. The first Gourmet Group decided that the hosting family would prepare the entire meal. Our personalities never meshed, and I found that there was competition to outdo the previous dinner party. When my husband and I hosted, we made homemade individual pizzas, so everyone had to roll out their pizza dough. Working with flour can be messy, so I provided each guest with a chef’s jacket with their name embroidered on it. At the end of the year when each of the four couples had hosted a meal, no one suggested continuing.
Not dismayed by the previous unsuccessful group, my husband and I signed up for another. The leader of this Gourmet Group decided that the host family would plan the meal and prepare the main dish. The recipes for the other dishes, appetizer, sides, salad, and dessert, were sent to the other three couples to make and take to the dinner. Initially, I didn’t like this idea, but it turned out to be a fantastic way to cook new foods. I was assigned a Spanish chorizo with balsamic vinegar recipe. It sounded terrible, but I followed the directions very carefully, and it was absolutely fantastic. Again, this group opted not to continue, and my husband and I decided we didn’t enjoy eating dinner with people we had nothing in common with.
As you see, cooking groups come in all shapes and sizes. In my experience, it is important to include people who you know. Decide how often you will meet. Once a week was intense, but it was a wonderful celebration every week. Once a quarter wasn’t often enough. If we had met more often, maybe we would have bonded more. I prefer once a month.
Deciding the format is tricky and depends on the cooking levels of the members. Personally, I learned the most from having recipes assigned to me. There are downsides to this, but it is worth trying, especially if you want to push yourself into new areas of cooking. Or, choose a cookbook and make every recipe.It’s worth having a conversation upfront to ensure everyone is comfortable with the approach.
The hardest part is finding people to join you. My recommendation is to start by asking yourself who you would like to spend more time with. It could be a friend from yoga class or someone in your book group. It can include spouses and children. Be creative and think outside the box.
My next cooking group will be difficult to find because we are moving to a place where we only know family. It will take time to find the right group, but I will find it because sharing food with other people is important to me.
I served this appetizer at the last Las Chicas meal. It’s simple to make, easy to transport, and is addictively delicious. Serve this to your cooking party, but tweak it, and rename it in honor of your group.