Communal Supper Club Frugal Foodies Seeks New Home

by Sarah Henry on September 9, 2011 · 14 comments

in berkeley bites,food events,frugal gourmet

Roasted turban squash served at a Frugal Foodies dinner. Photos: Sarah Henry

For five nights this fall Frugal Foodies is back by popular demand — with the hope that reviving the home-cooked dining experience might spark a new host to step up and take over the evenings.

Berkeleyside readers may recall that back in December, J Moses Ceaser, who had hosted Frugal Foodies in his west Berkeley home for five and a half years, decided to call it a night.

Ceaser had opened his home every Tuesday to old friends and complete strangers with the sole purpose of getting people in the kitchen cooking a meal from scratch for a fraction of the cost of eating out — while creating community on the side. And he did it out of his 960-square foot, open-plan artist warehouse apartment inside a former margarine packing plant in west Berkeley.

People of all ages, incomes, ethnicities, and cooking abilities came to make such dishes as blood orange, fennel, and watercress salad, roasted Brussels sprouts with pine nuts and olives, African yam soup with ground nuts, eggplant and shiitake mushroom crepes with edamame sauce, and cranberry tart.

Ceaser hoped that someone else would come forward in Berkeley, Oakland, or San Francisco to keep the momentum on the meet-ups going. But, in the past nine months, despite some discussions about getting a new Frugal Foodies night off the ground, no one has yet agreed to take over his role.

It’s not for lack of interest. Ceaser has a database of some 1,800 attendees, and the first couple of dinners this fall, including next Wednesday’s, are already full (interested people should sign up soon: the nights in November and December will likely be booked solid soon).

“There’s such an interest in having a Frugal Foodies in the East Bay that I’m not convinced we’ve exhausted all possibilities,” said Ceaser, when asked why he decided to bring the evenings back on a limited basis. He was also inspired to try to kick-start something around town after attending a recent Frugal Foodies night in San Jose that reminded him of all that was great about these dinners.

Kale, beet, and carrot salad from Frugal Foodies

What kind of qualities does a host need? Ceaser says organization skills and a comfort level with inviting strangers into the home, for starters. A type A personality and leadership talent also help.

Beyond that, people of different temperaments or cooking styles could do the job. Ceaser’s dinners are always vegetarian and mostly organic, but the evenings could work just as well for meat eaters, he said.

Some people are put off by the thought of hosting on a weekly basis. But hosting duties can be rotated among a few homes or meet-ups scheduled monthly.

Folks who have small, galley kitchens can make it happen, said Ceaser. Ditto people with 9 to 5 schedules, though he acknowledged it’s easier for those with more flexible schedules, like himself.

Ceaser is willing to help someone get started and said he would even facilitate the first event. His non-negotiables: dinner for less than $10, hands on (prepping, cooking, and cleaning) and open to the public. “This was a beloved event, and for the person who brings it back there’s the opportunity to be seen as a community hero,” he said.

As for hosting in Berkeley: with lots of farmers’ markets, Berkeley Bowl, and Monterey Market it’s probably one of the easiest places to pull this kind of thing off, he maintained.

Ceaser hasn’t missed hosting; he’s been busy working on trying to resurrect something else — raising funds and negotiating a lease to get the Parkway Theater in Oakland up and running again (it remains to be seen if he’ll meet with success on that matter.)

But, since he gave up hosting duties, he doesn’t have as much fresh food in his house, doesn’t try as many new recipes, meets fewer people — and, yes, his house hasn’t been quite as clean, something he vowed to tackle before the return of Frugal Foodies next Wednesday.

This post originally appeared on Berkeleyside. You might also like:

Farewell to Berkeley’s Frugal Foodies
Food Swaps: Sharing Goodies, Stocking Pantries, One Trade at a Time
Frugal Gourmet: How to Eat Well on a Budget

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather September 9, 2011 at 12:26 pm

A frugal supper club is a great idea, something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I love the holidays when I can cook and bake until collapse, to the enjoyment of friends and family who gathered. Is there anything like this in Austin, TX yet?
Heather´s last [type] ..Central Texas is on Fire

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Sarah Henry September 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Hi Heather, Nice to see you here and sounds like you’re onto a good idea.

Nothing like this that I know of in Austin, maybe you’re just the gal to get it started. For more info on how Frugal Foodies runs in Berkeley, Boston, and San Jose, check out their site: http://frugalfoodies.com/

Good luck — and do let me know if you get something started in your neck of the woods.

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Kelly Hartman September 12, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Love the communal supper club idea! And being a frugal foodie myself, it’s always fun to hear from other foodies too!

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Sarah Henry September 12, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Hi Kelly (who writes @ Frugal Foodie Family): thanks for stopping by and yes, you’re in good company.

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Lynne Sampson Curry September 14, 2011 at 11:27 am

I’m trying to kick off a similar idea in my community and am hoping that Slow Food’s $5 Challenge this weekend might light the spark: //www.slowfoodusa.org/5challenge. Hope to learn of the person who steps up for this frugal series soon.

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Sarah Henry September 17, 2011 at 7:24 am

Hi Lynn, Nice to see you here, good luck with the Slow Food $5 Challenge, and let us know if something like this gets going in your community.

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Sheryl September 16, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Sounds like a great event. Not sure anything like this exists in my area but if it did, I’d be part of it for sure.

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Sarah Henry September 17, 2011 at 7:25 am

It seems like it takes one highly-motivated and organized Type A personality to get these dinners off the ground.

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Kerry Dexter September 17, 2011 at 5:13 am

a great idea. looking forward to seeing how things evolve with this as new hosts will, I am sure, step up.

also, I don’t know of such a thing in Austin (though that seems like a perfect place for this idea) but there’s a site called austin farm to table which is very involved with farmer’s market news. perhaps they’d know
Kerry Dexter´s last [type] ..music and healing: September memories

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Sarah Henry September 17, 2011 at 7:26 am

Thanks for sharing the Austin tip, Kerry.

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MyKidsEatSquid September 17, 2011 at 7:52 am

I can relate on a much, much smaller scale, when you have folks visiting for dinner you do tend to have more foods on hand, try out new recipes, etc. Thanks for the update on this story.

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Sarah Henry September 19, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Agreed, MKES, with numbers comes variety on the food front, that’s for sure.

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merr September 18, 2011 at 7:35 am

Oh my…I want the recipe for the kale, beet and carrot salad! Maybe Frugal Foodies can camp out at my home for a little while!

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Sarah Henry September 19, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Check out the blog site, merr, you may well find the recipe there. No, wait, I was there that night, we just sort of made it up as we went along, which is my favorite kind of cooking.

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