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 too).
“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.
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.
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.
Farewell to Berkeley’s under-the-radar Frugal Foodies [12.16.10]