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September 1998 Issue
Gourmet Dinners ...The Cooperative Way
by Rossana S. Tarantini
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Last month we looked at the myriad of sites, mail lists and news groups available to foodies who 'surf the Net'. While it answers nicely the average foodie's passion for the collection of food info, facts and how-to's, it doesn't even begin to address the main passions of every foodie, eating and feeding. Every one worth their sea salt in the kitchen wants not only to have recipes but to experiment with them and have an appreciative audience rave at the results. Enter the Dinner Club.

Here we have the meeting of two of the foodie's favorite pastimes. The collecting and exchanging of recipes and the testing of same. Whether you live in rural areas or metropolitan cities, as long as you have a few like-minded acquaintances, you can have equal access to this source of gourmet dining, fine wine and good company.

The early eighties saw the Dinner Club rise in popularity. Perhaps in answer to the high cost of eating out or possibly as a reaction to high inflation, people took their love of food and their spirit of adventure, melded them, and the Dinner Club was born.

Different from Progressive Dinners, Dining In dinners still have some points of similarity. Each offers its members a chance to have a gourmet meal with a minimum of fuss, bother and expense. The members of both types of groups each have an integral role in the preparation of the dinner. However, while Progressive dinners take you from one home to the next for each course of the meal, Dining In dinners have the unique advantage of staying in one place, no driving to worry about but still having several different cooks prepare. As well, Progressive Dinners have no limit on how many could participate. There are your basic "host couples" who prepared and hosted each leg of the journey, but any number of "guests" could actually attend.

Here's where Dining In comes in. Really, this type of group can consist of many couples, all with one goal in mind . . . the ultimate domestic gourmet dining experience!

Back in 1984, my husband and I had just moved up to small town Ontario and were experiencing the "new in town" thing. With another "new arrival", a mother of four like myself, that I had met through my daughter's teacher, I ventured out one Wednesday evening to the local Welcome Wagon Club meeting, little knowing what was in store. Loosely related to the ladies who "welcome" new families to the neighbourhood, this club was really an offshoot. When the Welcome Wagon lady comes to your house, along with the goodies she brings, she invites you to a meeting. It's strictly social, there's lots of ladies and you don't have to leave once you're "not new" any more.

When we arrived that night, Melanie and I were surprised to find that the room was full. There must have been almost forty women there. As the evening progressed, we heard about all the sub-groups that sprang from the main club. There was a babysitting co-op, a book club, a coupon clipper's group, a history group, a group that did crafts together, a glee club and lots more! The one that struck both of us though was the Dining In Club. We were intrigued enough at this new -- for us -- concept that we stopped Linda, the chair at the time, and asked her to fill us in.

"No problem!" she said. "We're just about to have our cocktail party where we form our new groups. Please come and we'll put you in groups as well!"

She made it sound so easy. At the cocktail party, groups of four couples each would be drawn from the names of everyone who wanted to take part. Basically, everybody's name just went into a hat. When the groups were formed, they each got together and decided who was having which dinner when and stuff like that. For the new ones and there were a few of us, there was a brief outlining of procedure.

With four couples in a group, each couple got to host one dinner on a rotating basis and then there would be another cocktail party and re-grouping. Although we couldn't make it to the first cocktail party, my husband and I were placed in a group with three Club veterans. The practice is that no group should have -- if at all possible -- more than one new couple in it. This way, we could have the benefit of three dinners before hosting our own. I could hardly wait. My husband, on the other hand, was less than enthused. We received our first menu and I was relieved to see my recipe was for deep fried squid. I'd never made them this way before, but I had made squid before so I knew what to expect.

When Roseanne and Rudy said they would hold the first dinner, they also explained what that meant. As the host couple, they would plan a theme -- ours was Mexican Fiesta -- plan a menu and find recipes for it. Then they would prepare copies of the menu and recipes for each of us in the group at the same time deciding who would do each course. Because it was at their house, they prepared the main course and it's accompaniments. As well, they would provide the cocktails before dinner, wines with dinner, and coffee etc. after dinner. I had the appetizer which was the squid and a dippy thing, Marie had the dessert and Judy would bring the gazpacho and salad.

Believe me, dragging my husband to that first dinner was a nightmare. Kind of like taking your cat to the vet. Except he talks. "Do we have to go?" "Can't we just send the appetizer and stay home?" "Go by yourself, I'm not coming!" "I don't know anybody there!"

After a lot of cajoling, we got there. It was an interesting evening. We had a good time and when it came time to leave, it was all I could do to drag hubby out of there. It was 2:00 a.m. and the dreaded dinner was a complete success. We made some new friends and discovered a way of enjoying new and different foods that made it fun.

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