Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Cooking Club Struts Its Stuff

By Luke Tsai
Tue, Jun 4, 2013 at 8:00 AM

For more than a decade now, members of Meetup.com have used the online social networking portal to get together with complete strangers for an activity based on some common interest — everything from the mundane (hiking, dogs, the collected works of Stephanie Meyers) to the somewhat obscure (foam sword fighting, metaphysics).

In the case of East Bay residents Michael Wilson and Jackie Kirschner, cooking was that shared passion. For the past two years, the pair have parlayed that passion into a vibrant Meetup community with about 550 members. The group, the Culinary Addicts, convenes periodically, ten or twenty members at a time, for a cooking class taught by Wilson and Kirschner, followed by a communal meal.

Wilson and Kirschner at Guest Chef
  • Wilson and Kirschner at Guest Chef
For the next two weeks, Wilson and Kirschner will be bringing some of the Culinary Addicts’ best dishes to the public. From tonight, June 4, until June 16, the duo will serve a four-course $35 prix-fixe menu at Guest Chef (5337 College Ave., Oakland), as part of the recently closed restaurant’s “Back from the Dead” series.

Marisa Swartz, the founder of a related Meetup group called Food Sharks, helped develop the menu and will join Wilson and Kirschner in the kitchen, as will several Culinary Addicts members who have signed up to work the line — volunteering their time for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work in a real restaurant kitchen.

Wilson, who recently left the corporate world to start a gourmet hot dog cart called Pop Boston’s, explained that he sees the Culinary Addicts as more of a community of like-minded amateur enthusiasts than a formal cooking school. Participants pay a fee, but that only covers the cost of the ingredients. The first Meetup event, in July 2011, was a cheese and dairy class during which participants made goat cheese, burrata, and butter. Other themes have included a French picnic class, a series on craft cocktails, and an introduction to molecular gastronomy (which provided an excuse for Wilson to buy himself a sous vide machine).

Many of the events have been held at Wilson’s home in Walnut Creek, in a cottage on his property that he’s converted into a makeshift demo kitchen. But Wilson said he hopes to find a larger, better-equipped space, and perhaps the Guest Chef gig will help him in that quest. After all, these Culinary Addicts won’t be lowly amateurs anymore. They’ll have run their own restaurant.

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