Frugal Foodies Learn the Magic Of Cooking on the Cheap

By Kristin McFarland
Thursday September 25, 2008 - 09:50:00 AM

Every Tuesday, J. Moses Ceaser invites 10-20 strangers into his home to join him in cooking a sometimes exotic and frequently delicious vegetarian meal. 

The strangers come from all over the bay to attend Frugal Foodies, a group created by Ceaser in 2005 as an experiment in cooking and building community. Once a week, people gather from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. to learn a little about cuisine, meet new people and enjoy a good, cheap meal. 

“It’s a lot of fun, for $7–10 you can get a good dinner with company,” said Lois Corrin, a Piedmont resident who has come to Frugal Foodies “about 10 times.” 

A recent group contained a 10-year-old, a woman with teenage sons and others from various age groups. After a brief chat and introduction (name, expectation from the night’s meeting, and what you like to do or eat on a hot day), Ceaser divided the attendees into groups, each cooking one or two dishes. 

The night’s theme was foods from countries beginning with the letter U. Dishes included a Ugandan ground nut sauce, a Ukrainian vegetable casserole, an Uzbeki pilaf and coleslaw from the United States. 

The groups tackled the foreign dishes with gusto, slicing vegetables as thinly as possible and browning flour. Ceaser owns no measuring cups or spoons, so guests must learn to spice “to taste” and estimate as best they can, even while cooking foreign food. 

“Part of the challenge on these world cuisine nights is wondering if we should be exposing people to foods that are new to them, that may not appeal to their particular palate,” Ceaser said. “We’ve created wonderful meals, but sometimes not everything blends together.” 

At the end of the evening, before pitching in to clean up, the group sits down to enjoy its handiwork and converse with new friends.  

The magic of the process, Ceaser said, is witnessing how the chaos of 15 strangers slicing and spicing for an unknown recipe turns into a delicious meal with friends. 

To see the monthly calendar of Frugal Foodies meetings in Berkeley and San Jose, visit www.frugalfoodies.org.