An avid gardener and junior high science teacher, Diana Ellis runs a Garden to Plate club to get teenagers excited about eating vegetables they’ve grown themselves. She has cooked co-operatively since 1999 and is co-author, long with Alex Davis and Andy Remeis, of Dinner at Your Door.
Three tips from a pro
In real estate, the secret of success is the mantra “location, location, location.”
Around the dinner co-op table, it’s “communication, communication, communication.”
Over the last 10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to people throughout the country about their experiences cooking and exchanging meals with their neighbors. Everyone seems to say the same thing: Keep the lines of communication open so morale stays high and everyone is happy eating food they enjoy.
- Plan how to talk to each other. The first co-op meeting is all about setting expectations, such as delivery times, preferred foods, portion sizes, etc. Go beyond that to discuss how you will give each other feedback down the road. Many groups schedule a regular forum every so often to note the recent favorite and not-so-favorite meals. By making it a structure and acknowledging that everyone wants to make food that others like, you can keep communication positive and meaningful within the group.
- Spread the love. Everybody needs positive strokes now and again about the meals they’re creating for you — even if they cook like a celebrity chef. Whether it’s a quick phone call after dinner, an email, or a “loved the trout” next time you deliver dinner, be sure to let your appreciation be known. This also makes it easier on everyone when you acknowledge a certain dish is not on your list of faves.
- Keep it real. As the weeks turn into months and even years (yes, Virginia, it can happen!), it’s easy to take a good thing for granted. Be careful about raising the bar unfairly on your fellow chefs. As in: “Hmmm, this pork tenderloin with figs and wine isn’t quite as good as I remember it last time.” It’s easy to forget what it was like to shop for, cook, and clean up after every dinner during the week. So occasionally reminisce with your co-op neighbors about the days B.C. (before co-op). Your appreciation of each other and your improved quality of living will stay fresh.
Everyone is happy eating food they enjoy.
Communication is a big deal. But ultimately, the most important “secret” in starting a successful dinner co-op is finding a few other good cooks who are simply willing to give it a try.