If you’re a long time reader, you may have noticed me talking about “Cuisine Club” from time to time and though I have planned to give you a full run down of what exactly it is, I have never gotten around to it. So, here it goes – all about Cuisine Club.
It has been over 3 years now that 5 ladies and myself have had our little club.
It’s one of the absolute highlights of my month – of all of our months. I can claim no glory for the format or its concept as I joined at the invitation of one of my close friends with whom I used to have a Book Club. When that folded after two years of running, I knew I wanted to be involved in something else special with a group of girls that met regularly and this Cuisine Club has combined my love of food with good friendship, conversation and fun.
Here’s how it works:
On the second Thursday of each month we meet. Guest arrival is scheduled for 7.30pm which gives those of us with children time to realistically leave the house or get the kids settled if we are hosting. And generally, everyone departs around 10pm giving the host time to clean up.
We take turns hosting so generally we host twice a year because there are six of us and 12 months in a year – you get it.
The ‘rules’ are as follows:
You must cook either an entrée and main OR a main and dessert
You must cook from an issue within the last 3 months (this essentially ensures that we are cooking and eating seasonally)
Matching wines must be served
Part of the meal should be prepared in front of guests after arrival (not necessarily as a demonstration but just keeps it more informal and interactive)
Budget of $120
So, each year I invest $240 into Cuisine Club. I call it an investment because I’m investing in increasing my skills as a home cook, I’m investing in my friendships and I’m investing in my belief and confidence in myself as being capable of throwing a dinner party for six – which at the outset was a bloody scary idea!
It’s up to us how elaborate we go in terms of table settings and initially we used to print off a copy of each of the recipes used for each guest to take home and recreate if they wished. Now we just document the menu somewhere and refer to which magazine we’ve cooked from if someone is interested in a particular dish. It took a little bit of getting used to turning up to dinner empty-handed and still feels weird to walk out at the end of the night and not help clear the table or stack the dishwasher or anything, but that’s the way we’ve worked it. You host completely and you take care of all the provision of food and beverage, and all the cleaning up. And you know what, it works.
Once a year we do a partner dinner so our menfolk are invited and get to enjoy a wonderful meal and a great night ‘in’ with us. And usually once a year we go out for dinner. A couple of years ago we tried Blue Breeze Inn when it first opened, last year unfortunately I didn’t attend the ‘out’ dinner as I’d just recently given birth, but this year we dined at Woodpecker Hill when it opened. On those occasions, the person who would ordinarily be hosting that month puts their $120 budget onto the bill and we split the rest.
It’s such a fun format, it’s such a fun night out and it’s seen us through babies, new jobs, moving homes, relationship developments and soon our first wedding within the group. The group of ladies were not all friends to begin with which has also made it a wonderful gathering to be part of. There were three founding members who each had the opportunity to invite one of their own friends to join the club. Through this lovely bunch of women I’ve made four more amazing friends and each month it’s a treat to catch up on their lives.
Some months I’ve put in a lot time planning my menu, other months I’ve just whipped up something that I knew wouldn’t stretch me far in terms of my capabilities if I’ve had other stuff going on in my life that meant I couldn’t get too enthusiastic – i.e. new baby, heavily pregnant. There are some amongst us who run ‘test kitchens’ prior to their night hosting (such is their commitment to the event). I don’t usually have time to test but I love the planning stages and deciding what to serve.
Sometimes I use the opportunity of hosting to try something I would never either have the time or inclination to otherwise cook – using ingredients I wouldn’t normally work with and stepping outside the box to explore new flavours or dishes that aren’t in my wheelhouse. There are recipes I see in the magazines that I’d love to try but that aren’t appropriate to serve to small children, either because they contain spicy ingredients or ingredients that are a bit more special and not worth wasting money on dishing up to unappreciative mouths (!)
I have really loved having the chance to explore my culinary prowess. And another huge perk of the experience for me has been the thrill of eating what someone else has prepared and then taking that recipe home to recreate it for my own family. I put together my entire Christmas menu last year based on dishes my girls had served at different Cuisine Club gatherings. And my extended family were truly wowed by some of the things we ate that day!
A couple of years ago, two of us were pregnant at the same time (neither of us had told anyone yet, and didn’t know the other was pregnant, and neither of us was hosting), but that night we both feigned reasons for not consuming the blue cheese, prosciutto and tiramisu that was being served. The secret didn’t last long since the other diners all picked something was up!
When I was first asked to join, I worried about silly things like not having a fancy dinner set or matching wine glasses or beautiful napkins, but I quickly came to realise that the beauty of this idea is the friendship and the gathering together around a common love of food that is important. I’ve had disaster nights where my meal wasn’t cooking as the recipe had suggested (boy did I wish I’d done a test kitchen for that one!) so we didn’t eat till 9pm! Eeeek! Other times I’ve had a stand out dish that I’ve been super proud of and everyone has enjoyed. There is no judging involved and no critiquing. There are a couple of aversions to certain foods within the group, but thankfully no food allergies or dietary requirements meaning that we are able to serve whatever we want when it’s our turn. Which I think is important for it to work well.
I would highly recommend setting up something similar with your friends if this idea appeals to you. It is an affordable way to enjoy (often) restaurant quality food and wine and the all important opportunity to leave the house dressed up once a month which is part of the thrill for me. I get to put on heels and lipstick and dash off to dinner with the girls!
Last night it was my turn to host and I served the following. I made the nametags after being inspired by the uber amazing Kate. Mine didn’t turn out quite like hers, but it was fun to put a bit of an extra touch onto my table setting.
If you have any questions or if you’d like more detail on anything I’ve mentioned here, please don’t hesitate to ask either in the comments below or via email or FB. x