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Cooking club rising in popularity

Paul Raymore, Sierra Sun

Mix 20 neighbors, three distinctive holiday desserts, a few bottles of wine and a whole lot of enthusiasm, and what do you get? The Serene Lakes Cooking Club.

Founded in June 2003 by Serene Lakes resident Randy Diaz as a social club for people to share recipes and demonstrate cooking techniques, the SLCC has apparently mastered the recipe for starting a successful neighborhood group. The group started with approximately 30 people, and membership has grown to more than 100 (not all Serene Lakes residents) in less than six months.

Each month, a member of the group will open his or her home to club members, and usually Diaz and a number of other members will demonstrate how to make a favorite recipe.

So far the group has featured barbecue techniques, a wine tasting, and last Saturday’s holiday dessert extravaganza, to name a few themes.

Due in part to the weather, the last meeting was a smaller group than usual, a fact that didn’t bother Diaz.

“It was more intimate because it was a smaller group,” Diaz said, “so there was more hands-on interaction, which was great.”

Diaz traces his interest in food and cooking to his early days. Diaz’s father worked as a pastry chef when Diaz was young, and Diaz attended classes at the California Culinary Academy to hone his skills.

Though he has never worked as a professional chef, Diaz does help friends with catering, menu design and preparatory work for special events. He sees himself as a kind of “food consultant.”

“I’m sort of like the Ann Landers of cooking questions,” he said.

Overall Diaz has been amazed at the turnout and the growth in membership in the cooking club. Because almost 80 percent of Serene Lakes homeowners are part-timers or second-home owners, “a lot more people would like to come, but they’re not always here that often,” Diaz said.

That was the case with Patty Daffurn, who had never been able to attend a meeting of the cooking club until Saturday when she hosted the group in her house. According to Daffurn, “I don’t get up there a lot, so I thought the way I’d get up there to be a member of the club was to host a meeting.”

Daffurn, who guides groups through wine tastings as part of her job, demonstrated how to make a chocolate torte that was a favorite recipe of hers. Although she was in her own house, Dafurn admitted to being a little nervous cooking in front of the group.

“I was more nervous in front of them (the cooking club) than I ever have been in front of clients,” she said.

Like many of the club members, Daffurn joined in part to meet other Serene Lakes residents. “Everybody I’ve met from Serene Lakes has been really nice… so that was what motivated me to become part of the cooking club. It’s a great opportunity to meet people and it’s always interesting to see what part of cooking is a spark for them,” Daffurn said.

Also attending their first meeting were Julie and David Africa and their son Christopher. They became involved in the group through their friendship with Diaz.

“I think it’s a great idea, mainly because it’s kind of fun to have a social event,” Julie said. “It’s kind of like being at home when you have all of your friends over for dinner… Meeting new people is the nicest thing about the club.”

Julie shared a recipe for caramel pecan turtle cookies that she described as “pretty and easy.” According to Julie, “My husband is the cook in the family, which is why it’s ironic that I was doing the demonstration.”

After both Daffurn and Africa were through with their demonstrations, Diaz showed the group how decorating with marzipan can be both fun and easy, and he invited everyone to try their hand at creating miniature marzipan pumpkins, carrots, cherries and leaves.

Though he often shares cooking techniques he’s learned, Diaz sees his role as more of a facilitator rather than a leader of the club. “The whole idea of the cooking club is not for me to teach. The idea is for people to share what they know about food. It’s more of a community thing, it brings people closer together, and in the process you get to eat,” Diaz said.

The popularity of the club is undeniable. Many of the members in attendance said they have made or are planning to make special trips up to the area just to attend a meeting. In addition, Diaz has had so many members volunteer their homes for the monthly meetings that every meeting through May is already booked.

Although the group is named the Serene Lakes Cooking Club, Diaz encourages anyone in the local community with an interest in food to join. In addition to Serene Lakes residents, people attend from Truckee, Tahoe City and Kings Beach.

The next meeting of the group will take place in December and will feature a variety of multi-ethnic fondues, Asian hot pots, vegetarian dishes and desserts. Diaz expects approximately 50-60 people to attend the event, which has grown out of an annual neighborhood block party in the area.

For more information on the Serene Lakes Cooking Club, e-mail Randy Diaz at rodjns@excite.com or check out the group’s Web site at http://www.slpoa.com/serene_lakes_cooking_club.htm.


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