We all have one specific subject or special skill that we would love to share and learn more about. That’s exactly what these ladies from the Bahrain International Gourmet Club do! Our editor Fernanda Langhammer went to one of the meetings to get a taste.
People think that we just meet to eat, but we actually learn a lot with each other,” says Janet Mujtaba, the president of the group. The ladies are from different nationalities and meet to share special dishes from the country they represent. Members come from: Indonesia, France, Egypt, Bahrain, Lebanon, Turkey, England, Brunei, Portugal, Brazil, Germany, USA, Palestine, Thailand, Pakistan, Tunisia and Mexico. Each lady is responsible to host one morning and present their cuisine.
Meetings have a well-established structure, which I believe gives them seriousness and consistency. The host has to prepare a demonstration of two dishes (with a copy of recipes to be distributed to the participants), explain the recipes step by step and serve them amongst other delicacies.
I was invited to attend one of the meetings and the country that day was Portugal. The house of the hostess had a great Portuguese feeling, with Portuguese songs in the background and curious ladies exploring the specially-decorated tables. The smell was to die for and the perfect prelude for what we were about to try. The hostess, Francine Medola, was wearing a personalised apron. The environment was extremely welcoming and I almost felt part of the group (almost because I don’t really cook!).
Francine is actually the latest addition to the club and started, officially, this year. She says: “I love cooking and after eight years of living in Bahrain, it was about time to share my knowledge and learn more about other cultures’ cuisines.”
The easy conversation and happy chatting, demonstrate that, apart from cooking for each other, the ladies end up becoming friends, who share the same passion.
I spoke to the founder of the group, Maria Cataldo Kanafani who is still very active, registering every moment with pictures and sharing them on social media channels. “The group was founded on February 25, 2003, as an informal social and educational club, for the exchange of culinary practices and related cultural mores as represented by a varied membership,” she says.
Despite being a group of non-professional participants they all share the same love for cooking and for learning more about it.
And obviously, they all know how to cook pretty well.
New members are accepted only if introduced by one of the existing affiliate. The new lady to be must be from a different country and participate in three meetings before being voted to become officially part of the group.
The concept is not new to Maria, “I belonged to a club that had the same idea in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, while I was living there. It was founded by four ladies, friends and neighbours that, while having a coffee morning and helping each other to prepare a dinner party, had the brilliant idea of teaching each other their national food.”
She then decided to re-create the group in the Kingdom with the same principles when she moved here. “The group is not exactly the same, over the 12 years the members have changed, but we always find new interesting women who join with the same passion,” says Maria.
The meetings are taken very seriously by members, who bring special ingredients from their origin country or region to share with their gourmet colleagues. The preparation requires planning and much more than ‘just’ cooking. You must be very good with words and have no shame to show off your cooking skills to an experienced audience.
Francine did her demo full of details, catching all the ladies’ attention.
She prepared a green soup and an egg white flan that we all watched grow fluffier in the oven turning a beautiful brown colour. Ladies had questions and added their own touches to the recipes while trying the raw ingredients. I could see that they were definitely enjoying themselves, and I can’t complain myself, everything was really exciting for me as well.
“We usually prepare the food we learn at home, mainly if it is something we know our families are going to enjoy. The best part is that if anything goes wrong we can always talk to our gourmet friend about where it went wrong, so next time it ends up perfect!” says the president Janet. The intention of the group is definitely to have fun while learning about new recipes and unusual ingredients.
It is impossible not to wonder what is the group’s secret to keeping going for so long and Maria gives me the answer. “To start a club like ours you must be passionate about cooking, take it very seriously and, most of all, be committed,” she says.
I do believe that commitment must be the key to put it together. Although, curious and vivid people with something to share must be the other magical ingredient in this formula that’s been working for a long time.
Maria finalised by saying: “We have the necessary enthusiasm and passion about our national culture and cuisine, but also, we all have great generosity and hospitality in our hearts.”
I’ll add my own thoughts, after a while living on this island and away from family and friends, meeting a group of people you share common interest with is essential for a happy life abroad. In my opinion that’s what these ladies do when they meet for around three hours every other Tuesday. It is an affirmation of who you are and where you come from. Sharing your roots, beliefs and preferences with people from all over the globe is one of the things that the Middle East offers us and we shouldn’t miss the opportunity.