how to start, and maintain, a cooking club

Last weekend, hubby and I hosted our 4th Cooking Club event at our place. The theme was food-on-a-stick, and it was super fun! All kinds of good things. We made pizza-on-a-stick and salad-on-a-stick. Also on the menu and in our gullets: eggplant skewers, chicken souvlaki, potato salad, corn-on-the-cob, Greek salad, cherry pie, cheese cake, strawberry shortcake… all on a stick!

I am the organizer of this little growing group, so I keep track of every event. I realized this week, we started over THREE years ago, and have had 32 cooking club events!! I venture to say I’m a veteran at this. So, it’s time I did a post about it.

Here are my tips for creating your own cooking club:

  1. Start small. Find a few foodie friends and hit them all up with the idea. The group WILL get bigger and you want the core few to be very committed so it doesn’t fizzle out! To kind of prime everyone I did lay out some “rules” for the theme, and asked everyone to bring specific things for a planned menu. I talked about planning that first one way back in March 2009 on my old blog. There were eight of us in total which was still a LOT for that tiny kitchen. I asked those who attended to be willing to take turns hosting and we decide once a month was perfect.
  2. Establish some rules to break. The “rules” initially were that the host picked the theme and often made the main dish, and the rest of us brought appetizers, sides and desserts. It’s since evolved into a more extensive potluck (lots of main dishes, lots of cocktails, lots of everything!). It is best to be pretty organized in the beginning – once people get the “vision” they will break out of it and make it their own.
  3. Change it up. It took only a few months before people started asking to be invited. We mulled it over and decided to open it up. There would be less structure but more people is always more fun. We’ve also made sure to not duplicate themes and even add activities (Irish food + beer pong for St. Patrick’s Day, costumes for 70’s night..)
  4. Make sure someone keeps it organized. The host for the month plans and sends out the email, but it’s been beneficial for me to send out periodic emails that are more housekeeping-related to keep it all going. Like in December, I sent out an email to everyone asking people to chose their month, on a first-come-first-served basis and within minutes the 2012 cooking club calendar was full. Or if someone needs to cancel I can look at the list and ping those who haven’t hosted in a while (or ever) for the chance.
  5. Make it easy on people. Some people love hosting and some people get so nervous. I make sure to help people out by giving them ideas for themes (if they ask). Some people run with it. And I don’t force people into hosting. There are some clubbers that come almost every time but never host it. No worries. Someone always wants to!
  6. Calm your inner control freak. I wanted this to be so organized that we would all post our recipes to a blog. I started one and it didn’t last. Only a few clubbers wanted to bother. I had to be ok with it that it’d become a BYOB and potluck party more than a fine culinary experience. Thus why my first theme entailed Italian food, china and wine and the last one – food on sticks and PBR. Which leads me to..
  7. Let everyone do their weird thing. Hosting is kind of my “thing” now and I want to get all Martha about it. And some of the others do, too. It’s a great excuse to ask everyone to dress up for a night of cocktails one month, then wear our best 80s band tee or overalls for White Trash cooking. 
  8. If you can’t handle 6 & 7, here’s my highly-specific solution: Start another one. A couple years ago some of the original members decided to start a second “secret” cooking club. Where we’d actually cook something quite impressive and complicated, together, and eat it in a civilized manner. Whereas the other cooking club was a party, this one could have rules and structure (The First Rule of Food Club is.. DON’T TALK ABOUT FOOD CLUB).  It’s dissolved since, but it was kind of fun to reignite the original idea for a while.

I have gained so much from starting a Cooking Club! I’m a more adventurous cook. I no longer have hostess anxiety {ok maybe a little}. I think a little more creatively all the time as a result- really – because I’m on the lookout for ideas and inspiration. And I’ve gotten to know people I work with {and friends-of-friends} better as a result. We are a little family who bonds over laughs and flavors and a shared hobby. We know each others’ kids and significant others and pets and silverware drawers.

Just for fun, here’s a list of all the themes we’ve had through the years {the * means we hosted at our house}:

  • Mar 2009: Italian*
  • Apr 2009: American/BBQ
  • May 2009: Mexican
  • June 2009: Greek
  • July 2009: Cajun
  • Aug 2009: Hawaiian Luau
  • Sept 2009: Soup Kitchen
  • Nov 2009: Breakfast for Dinner
  • Jan 2010: Caribbean
  • Feb 2010: Fondue
  • Mar 2010: Asian Fusion
  • April 2010: French
  • May 2010: Indian
  • June 2010: Backyard BBQ *
  • July 2010: White Trash Cooking
  • August 2010: 70’s-Themed Cooking
  • September 2010: Mongolian BBQ
  • October 2010: Crock Pot Classics
  • November 2010: Baked Potato Bar
  • January 2011: Mini Pizza Party
  • February 2011: Favorite Foods
  • March 2011: Irish & Beer Pong
  • May 2011: Appetizers, Cocktails & Wine
  • June 2011: Grill Out @ Willard Bay + boating
  • July 2011: Vegetarian*
  • August 2011: Brazilian
  • October 2011: Thai
  • December 2011: Red, White & Green + Secret Santa Gift Swap
  • January 2012: Spicy Food
  • February 2012: Seafood
  • March 2012: Restaurant Appetizer Copy Cats
  • May 2012: Food-on-a-Stick*

The rest of the year is planned out so no sign of fizzling out any time soon. Is anyone else into anything like this? What have your experiences been like?

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