Cooking Club Administration
If you are starting a cooking club, there are some things we’ve found that really help our meetings run smoothly and make the whole experience more enjoyable. I thought I would share these with you in hopes that you will find them useful and perhaps get you off on the right foot from the start.
As I’ve mentioned in past entries, we chose to have each person bring a course based on a theme. Some clubs may choose to have one person do the entire dinner but even with that setup you should be able to use some of these ideas.
Planning the meeting, selecting themes and recipes
We decided early on to pick the meeting dates each time based on the group members’ availability. Since many of us travel for business (or used to) picking a standing day (like, first Tuesday of the month) wouldn’t work for us. We originally started out with the host coordinating via our group site– basically posting a message with a bunch of dates for people to choose from and then picking a date based on responses.
Over time we changed this slightly. Everyone brings their calendars to our meetings at and the end of the meal we figure out the next meetings’ date. This is much easier and allows for any negotiations or for discussion about back-up dates in case a conflict comes up for the primary date. Considering that we are normally planning about two months in advance, it’s actually a little amazing, but in the two years we’ve been doing this we’ve only had to change dates once, when one member had a business trip unexpectedly pop up at the last minute.
We also have changed the day of the week that we try to meet on. Originally, we planned meetings on Thursdays so that we would be close to the weekend but wouldn’t take up a valuable weekend day. Over time, as our friendships have grown our meetings have been lasting longer into the night! At some point we changed our desired meeting day to Friday and only switch to another day if we can’t find a Friday without a conflict.
At each meeting the next month’s host announces the theme for the next meeting. This allows us to discuss any questions that anyone may have and ensures the group all has the same information. When we started the club we decided that a host could either choose a theme or an entire menu (for instance the monthly menu published in Gourmet or something like this online feature). To date, we’ve all chosen themes, although occasionally someone will provide a sample menu to help define what they are imagining.
Once the theme has been announced members can start researching what they will bring. (Everyone will know what course they are responsible for based on our schedule.) However, it is the host’s responsibility to post the main dish recipe three to four weeks prior to the meeting so that all members have time to make sure the dish they are planning coordinates with the main dish. Additionally, we ask all members to post their recipe one week prior to the meeting. There have been times that appetizer, side and salad all looked suspiciously similar (some themes have a lot of leeway in what constitutes each course) and posting all recipes a week prior helps avoid these conflicts.
Central site for posting recipes, photos and scheduling meetings
When we started the group I set up a site through MSN Groups that would serve as our central communications vehicle. We keep our site private – otherwise I’d let you take a look at it! :-) We use the calendar on the site to post meeting dates/times; the documents area to store recipes; the message boards to announce themes and other information we need to share; the photo albums for pictures of the meetings; and the links area for links to cooking sites, menus, and articles we feel might be of general interest to the group.
Keeping the site up to date
Although MSN Groups only allows you 10 MB of storage, that 10 MB is per person. So if each person posts their own recipes you can stretch it out quite a ways. As the coordinator of the group I bump up against the 10 MB limit because I post all the photos. MSN allows you to purchase more space or you can do as I do and just remove files once they are "old".
After each meeting, before I post the photos from that meeting, I delete the oldest photo album and the document file containing the recipes for that same month. The original photos are already stored on my home laptop but before deleting the recipes, I save them all to my laptop, too. I also clear out old message threads and use the Welcome page to post the current schedule. We also track the wines served with each meal and that information is posted on the Welcome page in a table for easy reference.
Site administration takes me an hour or two per meeting. Most of this time is spent sorting through the photos, cropping them and cleaning them up before posting them, and then organizing them so that they flow logically from appetizers through dessert.
Maintaining the club history
I’m interesting in keeping a history of the club so I’ve done several things to support that goal. At our first meeting I gave each of the members a 3-ring binder filled with plastic sleeves (the kind you slip documents into) so that, if they chose, they could print copies of the recipes each month. At our second meeting we took a good photo of the five of us (the one from the first meeting was out of focus) and after the meeting I created a cover sheet for the binder with the group name, the picture and our commencement date. Recently, I created a label for the spine, too, although I realized I have not yet shared that with the members. For my own binder, after each meeting I create a collage from the photos, add the theme, location and date of the meeting and then use this as a divider page between the recipes. Recently, K borrowed my binder and made copies of those dividers for the rest of the group.
I have the photos and recipes arranged by month/theme in a Cooking Club file on my hard drive. At the end of two years we’ve filled our first binder so on the spine label I added a "Volume 1" and the dates of the meetings included in the binder.
When V announced she was leaving I wanted to give her a little "going-away" reminder of the club. So I created and burned CDs for each of the group members, based on the files stored on my laptop. The CD has a folder for each meeting; within each folder are folders for all the photos and all the recipes of the meeting; and I added the divider sheet that I had created for each meeting. I also created a custom label for the CD with the group name and information about what is contained on the CD.
These are just some ideas that we found work for our group. Good luck in setting up your specific plan!