For those of you who've been down this road, what works? What doesn't?
I'm interested in whatever there is to learn from your collective wisdom.
As always, thank you so much. ;o)
Invite me! I especially like the idea of organizing it around cookbooks.
As for what works, what doesn't, I'd say you really have to know your group. For some groups "red" is a theme, for others you can't go Chinese, but need to go "northeast Yunnan, higher than where they grow rice." Some groups are casual about expenses, and others keep track, keep a budget, and divvy up the differences. Lots of groups are pot luck--everyone cooking together in one happy kitchen can be a whole lot of fun but takes extra energy, organization, and willingness to let it all go.
My most successful supper club started out with you and a small group of friends who like to eat and cook. They can be people you see all the time or friends who you'd like to see more of. However, having a core group of 3 I think will be good to anchor the club. We then invited other friends and their friends and posted an invite on your favorite food forum for locals. We took turns hosting to be fair. Since it was your idea, you should host the first meeting. If there will be strangers, meeting at a local restaurant/watering hole seemed to work out best. If it's just people you know, meet wherever you want. At the first meeting, it is important to eat lots of food and drinks and have fun and lay down some rules of the club. For us, we tried to meet about every month, picked a theme (anywhere from apps & desserts to things with tofu), and used potluck format where everyone emailed to the group to let everyone know what they will bring so we will end up with a complete meal. The host always provides an entree and whatever else strikes their fancy. Sometimes everyone's too busy, so we would end up at a new restaurant just to not lose momentum. We've also done picnics at a winery or baby and wedding showers and Christmas parties. It is great fun. I think the key is not to lose momentum--once you skip one gathering, it is very easy to start skipping another and then another. Have fun! Some of our funnest themes were chocolate (try coming up with more than molé ad entrees!), apps & desserts (our first official meeting theme), baby showers, red foods. I'm so excited about your supper club!
I forgot to add that after Katrina, we hosted one with hurricane as a theme and used that meeting to raise funds to help the victims. So as you can see, any theme will work. When one of our group members got sick, we hosted a casserole/cook now-eat later meeting where we made doubles of easily reheatable foods and sent them over to her house. It is an amazing feeling to know that these friendships started out as supper club meetings
I teach cooking classes 4 times a year based on cookbooks. The price of enrollment includes the book in question. I try to reach outside the box of whatever is the current hot stuff. My all-time favorite was with Joanne Harris's (author of, among others, Chocolat) My French Kitchen: A Book of 120 Treasured Recipes. She has a recipe for a Blue Cheese Bake that people are still making and talking about. What a lovely idea, and we'd love to know what avenue you take.
As I think about it, your idea of basing it on a book is quite brilliant, especially for a cooking group, which is different from a class. A book lends a focus, and keeps participants from wandering excessively. Jeffrey Traunfeld's Herbfarm cookbooks spring to mind. Too, it provides a lovely follow-up communication as participants email what they've made from the book. It also facilitates gift-giving.
Know your group! We started a cooking group with two other couples. (The women all cook; the men provided alcohol. Which we needed.) We first met at a restaurant and decided to attempt to get together quarterly. We did themes (French, Moroccan, Greek, New Orleans…). All good, except it turned out that one of the women was a terrible cook (fish underdone, no seasoning, etc.), but thought she was great, so there was no way to have a conversation about it. (They also have a huge dog that I was terrified of, and they thought that was hilarious, so they let her have the run of the house.) The other was a good cook, but when we met at her house we'd have to endure the 10,000 photos they took on their trip to Africa. We really like these people (outside of their homes), and ended up just meeting at restaurants.
I love this story, drbabs!
We belong to a supper club that plans to meet 4 times a year. This is our first year, and we have had one supper. The theme is actually based on a wine region. So far, we "traveled" to Germany in early March and created a German menu. We are trying to schedule another supper soon, and we are deciding on either Tuscany or Provence in order to keep the menu light and summery.
To echo what Garlic Fiend said momentum is key. My old roommate and I started a supper club that lasted a few years (people moved, got married etc) and we picked a cuisine theme and had a set night every month. But we alternated between going to a restaurant one month and cooking the next. So we'd have the same cuisine two months in a row. The goal was to be adventurous -- try something we've never tried, cook something we've never made. I think the cookbook theme would be in the same vein. It was really fun. I'd love to do it again!
Love the restaurant/in-home pairing idea!
My friends and I (four couples) had a wonderful one for a number of years. The hostess provided the main entree, the wine, and cocktails, the others were each given a side dish/salad, or dessert. It turned out to be mostly seasonally based, so that worked out well. We girls, the planners, had at least as much fun poring over cookbooks and magazines (with wine, of course) choosing the menu as the dinners turned out to be. So much fun, you will love it!
I joined a dinner club on Meet Up. Organizer's outline: meets once a month on a Sunday evening, dinner with a theme picked by that month's host, all attendees sign up for different parts of meal in advance (list of recipe ideas for different courses emailed out 2-3 weeks in advance of next dinner) hosting rotates through members and the host(ess) is responsible for providing theme-appropriate beverage, dinner music, and table setting/decor to suit theme but not a dish. $20 annual buy in to join group, used as incentive to minimize non-participating Meet Up users from joining AND to replace any dishes for a last minute cancellation. Members state how many diners their home can accommodate and their month's dinner is limited to that number of attendees. Group defined by organizer as people within a certain geographic area for practicality. She also set a $100 cap for spending/person/meal but our group doesn't usually exceed 10 diners per Meet Up so that isn't usually an issue. She also a vested that she can remove any member at any time without guarantee of a refund (which she's needed to do on one occasion for a disruptive member). I've loved the club! Such a great way to meet people outside of my normal circles, experiment with cuisines outside my usual repertoire, and learn from others. Hope you find as much pleasure in yours as I have in the one I joined!
The best advice--already given-- is to really be aligned with other members of the group. We joined a dinner club a few years ago and of the five couples, two were seriously interested in food, which meant that we suffered through gritty, gummy mushroom soup, overcooked meat, and what I remember as a surprising number of potato dishes. We quit the night after I had spent all day--literally all day--making Thomas Keller's salmon tartare cornets. This is a complicated recipe that starts with making a template for the damned cornets. At the end of the day, my fingertips were all burned and the kitchen looked like a FEMA site, but the appetizers were beautiful and amazingly good. (If I say so myself.) The recipe, if you're interested and have a day to spare, is here http://www.zencancook.com/2011/12/salmon-tartare-cornets-with-sweet-red-onion-creme-fraiche/ .
Anyway, what ended the summer club for us was after all that, only four people of ten dared try the cornets because, as you've probably guessed, the salmon was raw.
These are all wonderful people and I'd go out to dinner with them any time, but I wouldn't have them to dinner, nor would I dine at their houses again…
This sounds like so much fun! I remember reading recently (it was about starting a childfree group) that it's good to know before you start a group just how much time you're willing to put into it. She said that it helps to know your boundaries and to also have clear ideas of how you're going to delegate, because basically if you don't make the rest of the group divy up the chores, they'll generally leave it all up to you. She mentioned that it is good to think about costs for mailing things out, but that seems a bit outdated now that everything is online (her group was formed in the 80s or 90s I think). Anyways, her general advice was to know how much time you're willing to invest, know that most people will sort of expect you to do all of the organizing unless you delegate it, and to delegate-delegate-delegate :)
An acquaintance mentioned doing an informal get-together where everyone cooks a different recipe from the same cookbook, and that sounded like fun!
Or are you thinking of the sort of supper club that is a business where you charge people to come? I've read many online articles about that, but have never been to one.