Membership in a cooking club has its privileges--especially when someone in the group is a professional chef
TODAY JIM MCKEAN, A MASTER VIOLIN-MAKER who lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, laughs at the memory of how nervous he was when he found out that Christer Larsson was joining his cooking club. McKean and his wife, Claire, had started the club, which meets one Saturday night every other month, with three other couples. Larsson, the chef and owner of the Swedish seafood restaurant Christer's in Manhattan, and his wife, Deborah, were replacing a couple who were moving. It was daunting to cook for a professional ("Why don't we get together a violin-making group too?" McKean cracked), but he was game.
McKean decided to make an onion tart for the Larssons' first visit. Unfortunately, he neglected to leave enough time for the pastry dough to sit, and he wound up racing to the Grand Union for the ready-made variety. "Every time I tried to roll the stuff out," he remembers, "it would just go back into a ball in front of my eyes." But when everyone finally sat down to the pissaladière, Larsson took one bite and proclaimed: "The onions are caramelized perfectly!" McKean knew then that this was the right man for the group.
"We think about good food," McKean says, explaining why he and Claire have such a good time at the club. "We think about getting together and having fun. It isn't like haute cuisine, where we really pull out all the stops." He reconsiders: "Well, actually, yeah, sometimes we do."
Larsson, who is busy these days preparing a take-out sausage spot, Knödel, for the new food court in New York City's Grand Central Terminal, has his own reasons for loving the club. "It's not that easy to cook," he observes in his pronounced Swedish accent. "It's something you practice, and you get better and better at it." He and Deborah are used to spending Saturday nights at Manhattan restaurants; when the club meets, they don't have to travel into the city, they don't have to pay a fortune for a meal, and--since each couple is responsible for only one course (the evening's hosts choose the dinner's theme and prepare the main course)--they don't have to spend all weekend cooking. "It's my night off and I have a good time," he says, quickly adding, "but it's pretty civilized. We all like to get up early on Sunday morning, so it's not like anybody will start dancing on the table." Every meal does start off, though, with a good bottle of Champagne.
To get a first-hand club experience, FOOD & WINE dropped in on a late-summer meeting of the group. The meal had an Eastern Mediterranean theme: the McKeans and the Larssons put together a sumptuous meze table; Nancy and Bob Mazzoli provided the centerpiece, lamb kebabs, and the beans and salad; and Callie and Ernie Craumer made the desserts.
TRISH DEITCH ROHRER is a freelance writer who lives in New York City.