Foodies celebrate the power of food through their gourmet club.
What comes to mind when you hear the term “gourmet club?” Perhaps, you think of an exclusive group focused on Michelin-level meals or an elusive inner circle swishing and sniffing their glasses of wine. Although decadent wine and mouthwatering food are a focus for the Phelps Bay Gourmet Club (named after a Lake Minnetonka bay), it is not an elite clique. Rather, it is a group of neighboring foodies, who enjoy connecting over new recipes paired with delicious drinks and plenty of comradery.
People have connected over food and drink since the beginning of time. Although the way we cook and the types of food we enjoy evolve, the importance of enjoying a tasty, homemade meal in the company of others has never wavered. And that’s what the Phelps Gourmet Club is really all about, according to co-leaders Deb Cooper and Peggy Cotter.
As co-leaders of the club, which was founded in 2015, Cooper and Cotter are responsible for organizing dinners, creating menus (if needed) and recruiting new members. “[Gourmet clubs] are generally neighborhood-based, but we’ve branched out a bit,” Cotter says. “We create a menu and get together once a month. The host of that month gets to choose what type of food it is. The [hosts] make the signature cocktail and the main dish. The other members do the sides.”
Every month, the hosts pick a type of food based on that month’s theme. Although club organizers occasionally create menus based on different types of international cuisine (like traditional gourmet clubs do), they don’t restrict themselves to it. Murder mystery, the Minnesota State Fair and the Iron Range are a few examples of themes they’ve done in the past.
Cooper and Cotter prefer to keep the themes fun and flexible in order to create an inviting and approachable atmosphere for the 19 members. “It’s really about socializing and trying new recipes,” Cooper says. “You may be forced to try a new recipe … but then it may become your favorite.”
As an example, the club’s St. Patrick’s Day menu kicked off with a Two Gingers cocktail. The meal featured Steamed Cabbage with Caraway Seeds; Steamed Carrots with Butter and Fresh Dill; Boiled Red Potatoes with Butter and Fresh Parsley; and soda bread. For the final touch, members were served Guinness Chocolate Cake.
Not only does the group get creative with themes and menus, but it also thinks outside the box (or home) when it comes to meeting locations. “Last year, one of the ideas was to have a potluck in the ice house,” Cooper says. “We did drone shots [the photographic kind!], chili and a bonfire. It was really fun. We focused on Minnesota-style recipes.”
Cotter says, “We also had one out on the ice where we released Japanese lanterns.” Another occasion called for an Italian chef to come to Cotter’s house to show the group how to make gnocchi and meat sauce.
In addition to homes and ice houses, they’ve also done virtual gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In December 2020, members continued their monthly tradition over Zoom. “We sent out a fabulous recipe for Filet Mignon with Blackberry Reduction Sauce … Participants shared their thoughts on the recipe while we ate and sipped together,” Cotter says.
While sharing varied recipes and meals together are a cornerstone of the club, forming friendships and making connections are equally as important. “You get to know people that you wouldn’t normally get to,” Cooper says. “There are many people in different age ranges and walks of life.”
“We support each other,” Cotter says. “We’ve become a resource for each other.”
For those interested in forming a gourmet club, consider the following suggestions thanks to Cotter and Cooper.
- Have two people run the club to distribute responsibilities.
- Go door to door in your neighborhood to recruit members. (At the very least, this is a great way to get to know your neighbors.)
- Make sure the club is flexible and casual, keeping it from being intimidating.
- Keep an open mind—and palate because it’s important to be willing to try new taste profiles.
- Be willing to cook items even if you don’t favor them, so members are able to try new options.
- Accommodate food allergies.
- Be open to trial and error, and remember that it’s OK if a recipe doesn’t “pan out.”
Menu in the Making
For inspiration, the Phelps Bay Gourmet Club offers these suggestions for a springtime menu.
- Signature Cocktail: The Bees Knees*
- Smoked Salmon with Stuffed Pea Pods
- Shrimp and Bacon
- Deviled Eggs
- Melon, Arugula and Serrano Ham Salad with Smoked Paprika Dressing
- Meatloaf Stuffed with Prosciutto and Spinach
- Lemon Orzo with Pine Nuts
- Asparagus with Olive Gremolata
- Surprise Cake
*Bees Knees Lemon Cocktail
- 2 oz. gin
- 3/4 oz. honey syrup
- 1/2 oz. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
- dash of DRAM Honey Chamomile Bitters, optional
- sprig of thyme for garnish, optional
To prepare the honey syrup, place equal parts honey and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until dissolved. For two or three drinks, use 1/2 cup each of honey and water. Set the syrup aside to cool. To make a cocktail, to a shaker add: ice, gin, honey syrup, lemon juice and bitters. Shake well, and pour into a glass. For a variation, serve the cocktail over ice, and top with soda water to enjoy the intensity of the honey and lemon, along with bubbles and less of a bite.
Once a Cook …
Christina Wunrow was the founding member of the Phelps Bay Gourmet Club and operates Thyme Saver Kitchen. Now living in Tennessee, she posts weekly instructional videos on her YouTube channel. Learn more at thyme-saver.com.