In Praise of Supper Clubs

Jul 8th, 2017 | by Eat Drink Indy | Jolene’s Blog

When was the last time you had dinner with friends? 

While looking for an email about the local dining group Circle City Supper Club, I found this draft of a story that appeared in The Star in 2008.  It’s about supper clubs — friends who get together regularly to cook and enjoy a meal and who keep the concept going for years. I want to do this. Anybody with me?

Cook. Eat. Enjoy

We should get together more often – isn’t that what everyone says after a great dinner with friends? And we’d love to, of course, but everyone’s so busy, there’s just no way, right?

Wrong.

That’s the answer from area residents who have made dinner with friends a priority.

Supper clubs, cooking clubs, gourmet clubs. Whatever you call them, the point is the same – a group of friends getting together regularly to share a meal. Two popular food magazines, Cooking Light and Bon Appetit, have promoted the concept, an idea that has become popular with plenty of local cooks.

Some have been getting together with the same group of friends for 20 years or more – well before all the media attention – to cook, eat and catch up on each others’ lives.

“It’s just a lovely, lovely thing to do,” said local chef Nancy Peterson, who recently attended a gourmet club get-together at the Indianapolis home of WISH-TV statehouse reporter Jim Shella and his wife, Connie, a certified diabetes educator with Eli Lilly.

But it is a commitment, members said.  

“We all have very busy lives,” said Connie Shella. “You have to be committed to it. If you don’t show that commitment to it, it won’t last.”

The Shellas have been meeting with Peterson, her husband, Scott, and friends Steve and Sheila Sweitzer for so long that it took considerable calculations to pinpoint when they first started getting together. The Sweitzers, it was finally decided, launched the group about 22 years ago with another couple (who has since dropped out). The Shellas joined about 20 years ago, the Petersons about 18.

“We’ve watched each others’ kids grow up,” Connie Shella said. “And now they’re old enough to be part of the company.”

Whoever hosts the dinner invites another couple to round out the group, and this time the Shellas’ daughter, Katie, 29, was attending with boyfriend Dave Adair. 

As hosts, the Shellas chose the menu for the evening and sent attendees a recipe for 

their assigned dish. For this get-together the menu included roasted carrot and parsnip 

soup, potato and leek flatbread with greens, fennel-crusted pork loin with roasted potatoes and pears, parsleyed green beans and sticky toffee pudding. Their daughter was assigned the soup.

“I called Mom,” she admitted, “and said, ‘What’s a parsnip?’”

But the soup – like the rest of the meal – turned out great, the group decided. And even if it hadn’t, there would have been no complaints from this crowd.

“The big thing is never complain,” said Connie Shella. “That’s a rule.”

And for this long-lasting cooking group, the focus really isn’t on elaborate food or fancy technique anyway, her husband pointed out.

“It’s more a social activity than a food activity,” he said.

Eastside resident Dana Harrison, who meets regularly with her 16-member dinner 

club, said her group has the same laid-back perspective.

“It’s more about the social element,” said Harrison, whose group will soon celebrate its second anniversary. “Having chi-chi food is not something we were wanting to do.”

Harrison’s group, like the Shellas’, does not actually cook together, something that can prove difficult for those with limited space.

“We tried doing the cooking together, but it didn’t work for us,” said Harrison, executive director of Dress for Success Indianapolis. “Our common theme is that we live on the eastside. These are not big houses.”

Whoever hosts the dinner chooses a theme for the evening – soups, for example, or food for St. Patrick’s Day, Harrison said – “and everyone just brings something that’s in line with the theme.”

In contrast, Candace Grover’s Bloomington club offers detailed guidelines as to the duties of the host (menu selection, recipe assignments, cocktails and wine), co-host (preparation of the main course), guests (attending assigned dinners and bringing their assigned dishes) and alternates (filling in for guests unable to attend).

One thing her group does not do, however, is divvy up expenses.

“We used to meticulously account and divide up the costs of the meals,” said Grover, noting that the group, which has been meeting for about 12 years, soon abandoned such detailed record keeping. “It kind of put a damper on the evening. It all evens out in the end.”

And while the focus of her group is indeed on the food – “everyone in our group is dedicated to good food, to good cooking” – the meals don’t turn into a critique session, she said.

“We don’t sit there and deconstruct,” said Grover, floor manager at Bloomington’s Goods for Cooks. “Usually people are pretty pleased.”

— From The Indianapolis Star 

Jolene’s Blog

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