Gourmet Clubs: Hosting A Friends & Food Club

Does the word “gourmet” intimidate you? It did me until almost 10 years ago when our neighbors invited us to participate in a gourmet club with a few other couples. They pulled together people they knew who enjoyed eating good food. At our first meeting, the only people we knew were our neighbors. 


While I was growing up, my parents participated in a formal gourmet group. The host decided on the menu and assigned specific recipes to each person. That’s what I had in mind for our gourmet group, but as we talked through things, we decided on something much more casual. The only hard and fast rule was that each person had to make and bring something that they had never cooked. We would meet as often as we could (usually every other month or so), taking turns hosting. The host would cook the main dish, and the others would bring appetizers, side dishes, salads, bread and/or dessert, along with wine or cocktails. Once the main dish was decided, the others could plan their dishes around that. It always felt very casual, with everyone contributing what they could and felt like making.

We have tried many new dishes with our gourmet club including cow’s tongue, pork belly and even squirrel! We’ve had duck, Lebanese roasted fish, chicken shawarma (thinly sliced meat wrapped in pita bread with veggies and sauce), salads, different kinds of breads and many creative vegetable dishes. We often have such great appetizers that it seems to diminish our appetite for dinner, but we always have room for our main dish and dessert. We’ve had pumpkin creme brulee, raspberry clafoutis (a French dessert) and dorayaki (a type of Japanese confection).

Over the years we have shared important life events like weddings, the birth of a baby, kids going off to college and a daughter who got
engaged. The founding couple moved away from Rochester a few years ago, so our group lost a little momentum. We have met sporadically since then, as we are trying to find our new identity. 


Another gourmet club in Rochester was started by Dawn Sanborn and Jorrie Johnson. Dawn wanted to combine her “love for food and friends,” while Jorrie wanted to try food and wine from around the world. They both wanted to “hang out with wonderful women, meet new friends and try real food and wine or cocktails common from other countries, almost like traveling without the airplane,” explains Sanborn.

Their group decided to start with the letter “A” and choose a country that started with that letter as the “theme.” Everyone would bring food or drink that was traditional to that country. Sanborn says, “Or we would bring a chocolate cake for dessert because who doesn’t like chocolate cake?”

Sanborn explains that not everyone in the group loves to cook, “but everyone loves a good get-together, so some would even just buy something from a restaurant.” One time, the hostess ordered gyros from a Greek restaurant.

They planned on meeting once a month and shared the hosting duties. They “went to” Australia, Brazil, Chili, Denmark, Ireland, India, Jordan, Kenya, Korea, Liechtenstein and tried lots of interesting recipes and foods.


I had recently traveled to France and was eager to make some French food with my gourmet club. I found a delicious looking recipe for brisket in a French cookbook. I was hosting on a Friday, and my day was filled with appointments, so I knew I would be pressed for time. The recipe I found called for cooking the brisket at a slow temperature for three hours after searing it on the stove. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get to that at the right time, so I searched for a slow cooker recipe. I ended up combining a couple different recipes to come up with the one that I’m sharing with you. This is a great recipe for hosting because you can make it ahead so that you can spend more time preparing for and spending time with your guests.

Another make-ahead recipe for parties and events this holiday season is a punch. Try this festive red punch that looks delicious and can be made with or without alcohol.


Would you like to start a gourmet club? You can make the group however you like it. You could cook or go out to eat and try different restaurants. You could have a formal club where everything is planned, or you could have a casual, potluck-style club. You could focus on a different type of food each time or maybe even a particular time period for your inspiration. Choose whatever you want the focus to be: social time, food or maybe wine. Gather a group of friends and enjoy food and time together.

Slow Cooker Beef Brisket with Red Wine and Cognac Reduction


  • 1 beef brisket, 4-5 lb.
  • salt
  • pepper
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • 2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • beef stock to cover brisket in slow cooker
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cups baby carrots
  • 1 lb. red potatoes, cut in quarters
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • ½ cup cognac
  • chives, optional


Season brisket generously with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder. Heat a large pan over medium-high heat and add olive oil to the pan. Add brisket and sear on each side, 2-3 minutes or until dark brown. Transfer to slow cooker. Add beef stock to cover brisket. Cook at low heat for 6-8 hours.

About an hour before eating, fry the bacon in a large pan. Once crispy, pour off bacon fat, leaving 1 Tbsp. in the pan. Add onion, carrots, potatoes and celery to pan and cook over medium heat until onions are soft. Add garlic and saute 1 minute. Transfer vegetables to a bowl with the bacon and keep warm. 

Pour wine and cognac in the pan. Add 2 cups of broth from the slow cooker to the pan. Stir to remove bits from the pan. Cook over medium high heat for 30 minutes or until sauce has thickened, stirring frequently.

Remove brisket from slow cooker and put on a platter, surrounding it with the vegetables and bacon. Sprinkle with chives if desired. Serve reduction sauce on the side.

Holiday Party Punch


  • 4 cups cranberry juice
  • 1 bottle sparkling cider
  • 1 liter ginger ale
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
  • 12 ounces vodka (optional)
  • 1 orange, sliced


In a large bowl, over ice combine all of the liquid ingredients. Float the orange slices on top, for garnish and serve.

Recipe courtesy of Sandra Lee (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/sandra-lee/holiday-party-punch-recipe-1949392)



Emily Watkins is personal trainer and freelance writer and editor.