“It sounds like fun, but I really can’t cook unless it involves a crockpot,” was my friend Roger’s response when I asked if he would be interested in starting a monthly foodie group with me and my fiancée.
But after a little explanation I had lured Roger and his wife, along with three other couples, into the prospect of eating great food and experimenting with different wines and other beverages.
It was a chance for each of us to channel our inner Bobby Flay, despite the fact that none of us even remotely resemble professional chefs.
My own passion for cooking started in high school out of necessity when my mother was diagnosed with cancer and the household meal prep mantra quickly became “help out or takeout.”
I’ve long considered myself to be a foodie, which in its simplest definition is a person who has an ardent interest in food. But to Roger, it was a newly minted badge of honor—something he wore proudly, if only proverbially, on his chest like a Webelo Cub Scout who had just matriculated to a Bobcat Boy Scout.
The term foodie has become a mainstream word in the last decade or so, but was first used 28 years ago in the title of the 1984 book, “The Official Foodie Handbook.” In their book, Ann Barr and Paul Levy defined foodies as “an aspiring professional couple to whom food is a fashion.”
A foodie group, therefore, is logically a gathering of several couples for whom food is a fashion. And that’s exactly what it is—a glorified and regularly occurring dinner party, though I tend to describe it as a social club with an eating problem.
It’s also a chance to venture outside of your comfort zone by experimenting with ingredients and dishes that you might not otherwise cook and to experience other couples’ attempts to do the same.
For our first attempt at being a group of foodies, and since a few of us in the group have food allergies and aversions, we chose to choose a theme and accompanying menu together in order to avoid problems. With the Olympics about to be in full swing, it seemed like a natural fit to go with a Team U.S.A. theme that incorporated red, white and blue ingredients into our dishes as much as possible. And for the most part, with the exception of the “Team Belgium” Brussels sprouts, we succeeded in showing our patriotism.
Here’s what we cooked:
Entrée: Bronzed Olympork tenderloin
Salad: Red, white & blueberry salad with maple shallot vinaigrette
Side dish: Gold medal heirloom tomatoes with basil and balsamic
Side dish: Braised “Team Belgium” Brussels sprouts
Dessert: American Flag fruit with sweet cream cheese spread
Beverages: PBR and Chardonn-U.S.A.
The 10 of us gathered at a friend’s house in southeast Bend on a typically warm, sunny Saturday afternoon. But before the cooking began, we took part in our own backyard Olympics that included feats of bocce, croquet and cornhole. That, along with a few cocktails, set a casual and relaxed tone for the evening that would carry into the kitchen and onto the dinner table.
With the backyard Olympics behind us, we went to work in earnest in the kitchen. While some of the prep work for a few dishes had been done ahead of time, all of the assembly and cooking took place as a group.
It was fun to joke and laugh and tell stories as we prepared the meal as a group. We divided up roles and responsibilities like washing, chopping, meat handling, sautéing, etc., and went about our individual tasks.
In short order, and in a manner that felt like an Amish barn-raising, the food was done and a family-style spread lay before us on an outdoor wooden table.
As the sun dipped below the mountains and the warm air quickly began to cool, we found ourselves lingering over dessert while evaluating the meal and contemplating themes for our next foodie group gathering.
I enjoyed the experience more than I thought I would, and left with inspiration to become incrementally more adventurous in the kitchen. That, and the satisfaction of knowing I helped turn a crockpot junkie into a bona fide, merit-badge wearing foodie.
Start Your Own Foodie Group
The most common format for foodie groups, and the one we chose to follow, centers each month’s gathering around a particular ingredient, a la Iron Chef.
An example of one theme we considered for our inaugural get-together was “'80s hair band ballads,” which in my mind immediately conjured up dessert ideas for “Def Leppard Love Bites.” Get creative!
We recommend getting five couples together and rotating hosts from month to month.
For each dinner, task one couple with preparing one of the courses—appetizer, salad, entrée and dessert—incorporating the month’s theme.
In an effort to minimize their prep and cooking responsibilities, the fifth couple, which is typically the host couple, should provide beverages also based on the theme such as Mojitos for a Cuban inspired theme or Sake for a Japanese theme.
As for menu planning, there are also two main options. The group can determine the theme and plan the entire menu together, which can be done over dessert at the previous month’s foodie group.
Or, a theme can be selected and the individual dishes kept secret until their unveiling at the table. The former works well for creating dishes that everyone will be able to taste and enjoy, while the latter encourages creativity and incorporates an element of surprise.
So round up some of your close friends, regardless of their cooking skills, get together at the pub to plan a theme and menu, and get your own foodie group going.
Avoid These Pitfalls
Simplicity is the key to a successful foodie group. It can be easy to over complicate things and get carried away with exotic menus and dishes that are complex, time consuming or intimidating to prepare. The idea is to have fun, to enjoy the experience, and to inspire greater interest in food and in cooking.
Photos taken by Justin Yax.