Move over, book club. Food club is here and it’s better.
I’m kidding, mostly. Reading nourishes our souls, but so do our friends, so why not make 2023 the year of the dinner club among your friends, with each “meeting” having a theme, where you take turns hosting? My friend group has been talking about launching such a thing for ages, and 2023 will be the year if our enthusiastic discussion over New Year’s is any indication.
The thing is, there are so many possibilities for a food club, so how do you decide which route to take? If you also love the idea of creating a regular ritual among friends at the table, here are some possibilities I and/or my friends have been mulling over; may you find plenty of inspiration for your own food club!
But first, a few general pointers. There’s no need to convene a full-on planning session here, but then again, a group text could go a little haywire. You do you, though.
The starting decision should probably be how often you meet. Make it too ambitious and it may burn out quickly when people feel overwhelmed. Too infrequent and it may fizzle before it gets going. We’re still debating an every six-week schedule, give or take, but your schedules will dictate that, of course. Determine, too, if weeknights or weekends are better.
Once you’ve settled on those details, go ahead and get those dates on your calendars for the year. Yes, committing is vital for your happiness and maybe even your health, so make the dates a priority.
Then, what’s the hosting format? Does one household host and do everything when it’s their turn? Or do they host and maybe provide a main dish, but everyone else contributes a course, beverage, or side item? That’s entirely up to you!
Be sure to account for friends’ dietary restrictions. This may take a Venn diagram, but I’ve made a dinner that was a treat for both Paleo adherents and vegans at the table, so I promise it can be done!
Now for the fun part. What’s your food club theme for the year? Here are six suggestions:
How to plan a food club around specific cookbooks
This is the angle my group is leaning toward. You can take a couple of directions with this. Either everyone agrees on a single cookbook, or each household chooses one. The idea is it’s a book you’d love to really delve into. Each dinner will feature a menu from that book. This could be a really fun way to explore a new cuisine or new technique, and maybe find some new favorite dishes.
And let’s be honest: it can help transform that shiny new cookbook you wanted from just pretty pictures on a page to beautiful dishes on your plate. For inspiration, hit up Carmichael’s Bookstore, or the beautifully curated selection of books at The Breeze Wine Bar & Bottleshop, 1001 Logan St. inside Logan Street Market. Or think even more locally, and choose a book by a Kentucky author (“Victuals: An Appalachian Journey” by former Courier Journal food writer Ronni Lundy would be a fine place to start!).
Plan your food club around international food, travel
Here’s one close to my wanderluster’s heart: Make your way around the world with a different country or region’s cuisine each dinner.
If you’ve never dedicated the time to preparing that labor-intensive Indian curry or Yucatan mole you’ve been dreaming about, or want to go all out with a Nordic feast, now’s your chance. Bonus points if you use this as a chance to explore the thriving international market scene in Louisville. And you can make it a true culture dive by creating a playlist of music from the region, and sourcing drinks to pair with it. Nerds like me will even want to style the dining room with accents that fit the evening’s theme.
Use recipes from Louisville restaurants for your food club
Why not bring your favorite local restaurant dishes home? My on-and-off series where chefs demonstrate how to prepare some beloved local favorites in home kitchens could be a jumping-off point (I’m looking at you Dallas McGarity’s gnocchi), but we all have our own favorites. If you’re a regular at a restaurant and think the chef is up for sharing some pointers on your go-to dish, ask!
My dream would be to make the lamb from Brian Morgan’s first menu at Eiderdown, but the sky is seriously the limit. (Side note: shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a request you’d like to see me share in this column!)
Use food from your favorite Louisville shop or farmers market
How about you each pick a favorite purveyor, and build your menu around their offerings? Maybe that’s your favorite farmer’s market. Or it’s a full meal created from goodies at Lotsa Pasta, 3717 Lexington Road, any of the Paul’s Fruit Market locations, or Red Hog Restaurant and Butcher Shop, 2622 Frankfort Ave., and Blue Dog Bakery & Cafe, 2868 Frankfort Ave.
Plan your food club around certain wine, bourbon or non-alcoholic pairings
One of the most fun food and drink experiences I’ve had was pairing comfort food with wines based on native Louisvillian Vanessa Price’s book “Big Macs and Burgundy: Wine Parings for the Real World.”
Nouvelle Bar & Bottle, 214 S. Clay St., hosted a fabulous pairing event with Price last winter, but it’s easy to do at home. Take her book with you to Old Towne Liquors, 1529 Bardstown Road, or your favorite wine shop, and design your ultimate comfort food and wine pairing night. Or do a bourbon pairing with suggestions from “Which Fork Do I Use With My Bourbon?” by Peggy Noe Stevens, and Susan Reigleror let the folks at The Breeze make some suggestions for you with non-alcoholic drinks.
A food club classic: Dinner and a movie
How about a classic? Bring the foods in your favorite movie to life with a menu inspired by the film. Do you, too, adore the Stanley Tucci film “Big Night?” Go all in with a timpano with the movie, or at least the soundtrack, playing in the background.
And hey, if you want to make that cheeseburger from Searchlight’s “The Menu” (sans that killer dessert!) just please invite me.
Tell Dana! Send your restaurant “Dish” to Dana McMahan at email@example.com and follow @bourbonbarbarella on Instagram.