Posted by: dinaguillen | August 31, 2009

Cooking Club Theme: Bring Two Ingredients and Make Sure the Spam Doesn’t Backfire On You

I’m a sucker for group activities, but I’ve got nothing on Paul Somerhausen, who is in not just one, or even two, but he is, in fact, in three cooking clubs. Okay, technically he’s in two cooking clubs and one supper club (where they dine in a different restaurant every month). I think Somerhausen may be one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever talked to, and not just because I had a near out of body experience within five minutes of meeting him (more on that later).

I met Paul through Ann Martin Rolke, a Sacramento food blogger who reviewed our cookbook for her blog, Sacatomato.com (an excellent site for food and eating in Sacramento). Ann is in one of Paul’s cooking clubs, and when I asked her if I could write a profile of her cooking club, she directed me to Paul, the founder and foodie extraordinaire.

I sat down to talk to Paul at a local restaurant of my choosing, and immediately discovered I should have left it up to Paul to decide where we should have dined for this interview. He started his supper club, Sacramento-Epicureans, over six years ago and has nearly 400 members to date. Between 25 and 35 members attend each month, depending on people’s schedules. He could name the best local restaurant of any cuisine, from Afghani (Bamiyan in Citrus Heights) to Mexican (Lalo’s in Sacramento), as well as each restaurant’s specialties. Paul said he gets phone calls and emails from people daily asking him where to go for the best fill in the blank food. And after doing this every month for six years, he almost always has an answer for them.

But I wanted to know about his cooking clubs, and for the purpose of simplicity, we chose to focus on one of them. As we sat down and began talking, I noted an accent in Paul’s voice and asked him where he was from. He replied Spain, but that he’s been living in the United States for quite a while now. I told him that I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, and he looked up from his drink with a shocked look on his face. He said that one of his cooking club members also was raised in Saudi Arabia. It kind of shocked me too, since I don’t often run into people from Arabia, but I figured the chances of his friend coming from the same town were slim to none. My Dad worked for an oil company and we lived in a small (I’m talking itsy bitsy, here) compound that housed the employees and their families. But then he said her father worked for an oil company too, and as my excitement started to rise, he picked up the phone and called her. Her name is Catherine, and sure enough, same oil company, same town, and we’re the same age. We didn’t recognize each other unfortunately, although we knew some of the same people, a few of whom were getting together for a first ever Northern California reunion. People I haven’t seen in almost 30 years were getting together in one place, at one time and they all lived near me now. Very cool. As I was giving her my contact information so she could send me the reunion details, Catherine mentioned she is a Sacramento food blogger as well. Check out Catherine’s food blog at Munchie-Musings. Another really great site and she reviews many of the restaurants visited by the Sacramento-Epicureans.

And as Paul is sitting back, patiently waiting for me to realize this interview is not about me, I reflect on how cooking clubs have impacted me in the most profound way. “So, tell me about your cooking club,” I finally ask, to his great relief. After meeting so many major foodies through Sacramento-Epicureans, Paul decided to form a cooking club with some of the people he had gotten to know pretty well. They consist of six couples, mostly food bloggers, and they have been going strong for three years now.

“Our whole premise is to cook a good meal. No pressure, right?” says Paul with a huge smile on his face. They meet every six to eight weeks, and the first year they met, he really didn’t want anyone to feel any pressure. So the themes were whatever the host was comfortable cooking for a group. The host prepares the whole meal from beginning to end, and the rest of the year, they get to sit back and enjoy a fabulous meal from the other hosts. One of his favorite cooking club gatherings that year was an Indian meal that an Indian couple prepared. “We all put our heart into those meals, and it shows,” says Paul.

The second year, everyone decided to step it up and challenge themselves, and Paul was thrilled to see some amazing dishes that pushed the boundaries. Paul mentions preparing an octopus ceviche that year that sounds absolutely incredible. The third year, they chose to take an “Iron Chef” approach to their theme. Everyone had to bring two ingredients to a gathering. They put all the ingredients in a box, and then each couple blindly picked two ingredients out of the bunch and had to use those two ingredients in every dish prepared when it was their turn to host. “Catherine decided to be funny, and she brought Spam to our gathering as one of her ingredients. Problem was, it backfired and she ended up picking it,” Paul laughs.

Paul picked pistachios and lemongrass, and described the meal he prepared. He started with a drunken shrimp stir fry with lemongrass and pistachios, followed with a grilled pear and arugula salad with goat cheese rolled in pistachios and a lemongrass dressing. The entrée was salmon topped with a pistachio and lemongrass butter, and finally a homemade ginger ale float with lemongrass ice cream and topped with pistachio pralines. Talk about coming through!

“We love to challenge each other. We put ourselves in that position, but you also know you have an appreciative audience,” Paul says. “We want to see each other succeed, but you also don’t want to be the one with the lame dinner. There is definitely a playful competition and there is also a lot of smack going on.”

When asked what his favorite thing about cooking club is, Paul thoughtfully replied: “When food is a passion, it tends to bring people together that have a common passion for travel, and they also tend to be more open minded, culturally and socially.”

In closing, I asked Paul if he wouldn’t mind sharing some personal food favorites:

Favorite cooking gadget: A wireless meat thermometer

Favorite childhood memory of food: On Sundays in Spain, people would get together and prepare huge amounts of paella.

Favorite cookbook: I don’t use cookbooks.

Favorite chef: Oh man, that’s like asking me who is my favorite child. I will say, I really learned a lot from Chef Rolle of Café Rolle here in Sacramento. In fact, he introduced me to the wireless meat thermometer.

Last meal on earth: Prime rib and banana cream pie. And sashimi.

Paul is planning on teaching a Spanish cooking class at Whole Foods sometime in September, so if you would like to meet him and take his class, or if you would like to join his supper club, go to Sacramento-Epicureans.com and sign up. I guarantee you, you will be totally inspired by this man.

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Responses

  1. Just to clarify, I suggested spam but it was my team partner who pulled it. I pulled tamarind. LOL. We have to come up with a tamarind and spam dinner!

    • So your two ingredients are spam and tamarind?!!

    • I cannot wait to see what you do with those ingredients. After you host your cooking club, I would love an update, and most especially, your menu!


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