I'm a sucker for group activities. In the past I've shuttled between book clubs and writing groups, aerobics classes and improv comedy workshops. Had I been old enough in the 1970s, I would surely have been on the Tupperware party circuit. So it's not surprising that, as a passionate cook, I have joined the latest trend: I belong to not one, but two cooking clubs.
Alternatively dubbed dinner clubs or supper clubs, among other names, these groups bring together friends to cook, eat and—most of all—learn. The two cooking clubs I belong to in Los Angeles are very different. One, called the Saucy Spoons, was founded two years ago by Ellen Rose, owner of the Cook's Library, a popular cookbook store here. The 16 members are mostly food pros, including cookbook author Neelam Batra; Stacie Hunt, a partner in the wine store Du Vin; and Joan McNamara of Joan's on Third, a restaurant and take-out food shop that's practically an L.A. institution. Every month we test out an intriguing cookbook—The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rodgers, for example, or The Arrows Cookbook by Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier. We each pick a recipe and prepare as much of it at home as possible, finishing it when we arrive at the host's house. Then we dish about what we liked and didn't like. One time, for example, we all loved a crumb cake recipe so much, Joan started serving a version of it at her store.
My other cooking club is a lot less formal—we've never even given it a name—but it's equally rewarding. It too started about two years ago, with a group of about 10 girlfriends, all thirtysomething Angelenos working in industries from television casting to landscape design, who were already regularly calling each other with cooking questions and swapping recipes. Sometimes the more experienced cooks prepare and teach a menu to the rest of the group. Other gatherings are potluck and themed (Hors d'Oeuvres Night, for example, or Thanksgiving Prep). We've also taken a wine-and-cheese pairing class together and gone on field trips to sample a new restaurant.