Cooking Club – A good way to explore new food!

October 24, 2011 , In: Design , With: 2 Comments

I have been participating in a cooking club for the past year.What is a cooking club?  Well, it’s a pretty simple concept (although not always so simple in it’s execution!)  Essentially, around 8 people gather once a month (for us it’s every first friday) at one of the members homes, and we all prepare a meal around a theme which we then eat.  Sounds fun?  It is!  There are some rules though!  As well, I have a lot of tips to make your cooking club run smoother.  When we started out we were pretty much all new at the entire concept, which was pretty clear!  Lots of running around and stress and calling out for ingredients.  Now, things are smoother and much more fun!  Just as I am about to retire for the life of a new mom… (for a few months anyways!)

Cooking Club Rules:
-The host cannot have ever made any of the recipes before
-The host most supply a copy of all recipes to each of the guests
-The host must supply all ingredients including alcohol or drinks
-The host does not cook.  The job of the host is to find ingredients, cooking utensils, clean up, and fill drinks 🙂
-Each participant must give some money to the host to cover the cost of the evening.  Our club is $30 per person but I can tell you that usually does not cover all the costs of the evening.  I think $40 is more realistic.  This may seem high, but the host will be sourcing all sorts of new ingredients, and supplying quite a bit of alcohol and the costs can really add up.
-8 people max.  You’ll see that 8 people cooking in your home is quite a bit!
-Usually each team of two has two recipes to make.

When  guests first arrive, pre-prepared hors d’oeuvres should await them to eat right away.  There should also be alcohol or some sort of drink readily available. 🙂
Participants are paired off and work together making the dishes in a team.

The whole night should revolve around a theme which is revealed to the cooking club members in advance.  Some of our themes this year have been Peruvian, French, African, Turkish, Thai and most recently for halloween – black and orange foods (see photo above!).  Themes do not have to be geographical.  Other examples could include cheese, cooking with alcohol, seafood, comfort food, or raw.  The opportunities are endless!  It is also fun if the host decorates the home in this theme, or plays music related to it.  You can see our host in the photo above really played up the theme and even asked us to come in costume.

The job of a host is a lot more difficult than you might imagine.  It definitely takes some planning to have the evening run smoothly, and source all the ingredients.  Do not leave it until the last minute as you will have a load of panic and unhappy guests on your hands!

After a year of participating I definitely have a few tips to make the evening run smoother!  These were all learned through trials and tribulations:

My Cooking Club Tips for a Fun and Successful Evening!


  • Think about your recipes carefully!  I cannot stress this enough!
    • Do you have some mains and some lighter sides?  You don’t want to end up with a bunch of mains.  Not everything has to be fancy.  A side of vegetables cooked a new way is just as good!
    • Do you have too much food? We often end up with extra food, which we will sometimes send home with guests.
    • Are your recipes using more than one method to be cooked?  Five mains that need to be cooked on the stove is not workable.  You will have way too many people crowded around the stove and not enough room.  Try to have some raw dishes (salads, etc.), some in the oven, some stove top, and some even on the barbecue.
  • Your home – is there enough room for all 6-8 people?
    • We have had people host at a friends as they knew their home would be too crowded.  Is there enough workable areas?  Use all spaces – dining room, kitchen, and even outdoors if possible.  Fighting for space to chop is often the largest issue.
  • Do you have enough cooking tools?  Not enough chopping boards is a classic example.  Almost every team will want to chop.  Other things to watch out for is knives, and pots.  Make sure you don’t have 4 pasta recipes, and only one pot to boil pasta!
  • Do you know where everything is?
  • Do you have all of your ingredients?  Have you double checked to make sure you have everything you need?  Running out of flour or milk is a panic.
  • Do you have all the appliances and tools?  If the recipe asks for a food processor or steamer do you have one?  Do you have enough serving plates?
  • Easier recipes are better.  Cooking club is about fun, not learning to become a master chef.  Even a recipe which looks simple will take more time than you think.  I feel that’s always been the case for our club.  Plus, people enjoy a bit of downtime to chat and catch up.
  • Do your recipes use many exotic ingredients which you will never use again?  It’s fine buying rosewater for that 1 tsp you need for a recipe, but will you ever use it again?  You will inevitably end up buying a few of these types of ingredients, but if you have to buy 2-3 for every recipe your costs will easily start to skyrocket.
  • Do you know about everyones allergies or food issues?  For example, now that I am pregnant I would certainly not participate in a sushi or oyster tasting night.  We also have a girl who is allergic to peanuts.
  • Invite people over earlier rather than later.  Our meet time is 6:00 – 6:30 and we realistically end up eating usually at 10:00.
Cooking Club Day
  • Set out all your ingredients grouped by recipe so they are easy to find.  Also set out any obvious tools such as cutting boards, knives, measuring spoons and cups, mixing spoons and bowls.
  • Group your recipes so that they can be assigned to a team.  Try and choose an easier recipe and a more difficult one to assign to one team.  It’s also good to assign recipes in a different timeline – for example a starter and a main, or a main and a desert.
  • The host should try to clean as they go.  This is difficult as the host will literally be run off their feet, but helps with space and at the end of the night it will be easier to finish up the cleaning.
  • A big garbage bag well placed is essential.
  • Encourage your guests to taste as they go.  No one will have probably ever tried these recipes before, so you never know what you are going to get.  If something tastes bland, encourage your guests to use their judgement to jazz it up.  At the end of the day, you want the food you eat to be tasty.  This may seem to go against the grain of trying and following a new recipe, but these recipes can be pretty random and are not always great.  That’s just the way it is.

That’s it!  I encourage you to try it out as it’s a fun way to get together with friends, try some new stuff out and have a good time.  Pictures included in this post are from our most recent black and orange food cooking club!

If you are looking for a list of resources where to source your specialty ingredients, please see my Montreal Food Resources page.

ps On a personal note – today we find out if we are having a little girl or a little boy at our 21 week ultrasound!  Ultrasounds are always super fun, and I can’t wait for this one!
  1. Reply

    It sounds amazing! Might pick that up! It would be amazing to see these clubs starting everywhere in Montreal!

    • mina
    • October 24, 2011

    This is such a good idea. I’m new to Montreal and only have a handful of friends here but I’m going to try and persuade them to get in on a cooking club.

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Michelle Little

Writer & Photographer

Originally from the prairies and now in Montreal, I love exploring new places, eating great food and modern design. I'm mom of two wild things and paper and cake make me happy. Photographing your cutie family would make me very happy.

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