Originally created 01/18/98

Food clubs cook up friendship



ATLANTA -- There are clubs for folks who want to discuss books or politics.

Others gather to sing medleys, stitch quilts or shoot guns.

But for some in metro Atlanta, the ties that bind are quail with apple brandy cream sauce, hash-brown casserole or Spanish tapas and aged sherry.

"There's a camaraderie and a friendship that grows through the spirit of entertaining," says Pat Coker, a longtime member of the Dunwoody Gourmet Group, one of many area cooking clubs that use food to bring people together for fun and fellowship, not only during the holidays but year-round.

Some are formal, evening affairs requiring fine dress; others are casual get-togethers on weekday mornings to trade recipes and share lunch.

At the home of Pat and Don Coker in Dunwoody, six couples in tuxedos and cocktail dresses are assembled around a candelit dining table. While taking in almond-encrusted grouper and pear strudel, they dish out spicy commentary on everything from the Internal Revenue Service to President Clinton and Paula Jones.

They're comfortable with such banter, most having dined together every two months for the past 20 years, watching each other's children grow up, houses expand and careers bloom.

Every January, the women meet with calendars in hand and set the six dates for the coming year. Then they decide who will play host at each event. The host couple often provides the drinks, a well-adorned home and some help in the kitchen, usually a daughter.

A member from each couple -- almost always the wife -- takes responsibility for a different course, slipping away into the kitchen to prepare and serve that course along with the helpers.

And sometimes the helpers do more than serve. At the Cokers', daughter Ashley and her friend Lindsay Boozer sang three selections ranging from a hymn to a Broadway show tune.

Many of the club member's children have grown up and formed their own dining clubs. No doubt, they refer to their parents' self-published collection of recipes, Celebrate the Seasons, which was unveiled last December and has sold nearly all of its 1,500 copies.

At the home of Nancy and Bruce Wallace, several members of the Lawrenceville Ethnic Dining Club are clanging and clinking around the large, open kitchen, putting the finishing touches on more than 20 tantalizing tapas, or Spanish appetizers.

"Food is our vicarious avenue to travel and experience other places," says Nancy Wallace. "We try to keep a diverse group with international interests."

The club is made up of five couples, several of them California transplants to the Atlanta area. Some simply bumped into each other while buying wine and struck up a conversation that led to the creation of the club.