The Pissaladiere Nicoise, an onion tart studded with black olives and anchovies, is being passed around to the dinner guests while the Navets a la Champenoise, a turnip casserole, and braised stuffed breast of veal finish in the oven.
A French Frisee salad with lardons (bacon) and quail eggs will be served, followed by a dessert course of Tarte aux Pommes (apple tart) and Reine de Saba Cake, a chocolatey confection also known as Queen of Sheba Cake.
In other words, it’s fancy-schmancy.
The Columbia Foodies are paying homage to Julia Child, the celebrity chef credited with bringing French cuisine to the American hoi polloi, on what would have been her 100th birthday.
“Bon Appetit!” the members of this culinary group say, raising their glasses.
Columbia Foodies founder George Rothstein regales the dinner guests with his wake-up to transfer the stock made from roasted veal bones and vegetables into the refrigerator at 3 a.m., which he calls “the heroic effort on my part.”
There is laughter -- then long pauses for chewing.
“Can you taste the sage?” Rothstein asks the group. “I put in more than she (Julia Child) did.... But it’s a little salty.”
The Columbia Foodies, a group of local gourmands, meet monthly, alternating between cooking elaborate meals and dining out at such restaurants as Citronelle, Kali’s Court and Tersiguel’s.
“Experimenting makes me happy,” says member Katherine Demes, an accountant from Columbia.
Members come from various backgrounds. Iris Hirsch sings with an oldies rock band called the “Retro Rockets.” Lynnette Mitchell is a nurse. Rothstein is a retired NSA worker. But a shared love of haute cuisine brings them together, just like other supper clubs in the area, including the Howard County Books and Cooks, a group of ladies who meet to share dinner and cocktails, swap recipes and discuss books.
Rothstein started the Columbia Foodies in 2009 by putting a community notice in the Columbia Flier. At the time, he says, his friends were all “non-foodies.”
“They were obnoxiously healthy -- no oil -- that kind of thing,” Rothstein says, chuckling. “Another friend only ordered steak.”
Of the many people who responded to the notice, several of the members remain in the group today. The Columbia Foodies cap membership at 16 people, though there are several spots open.
Most of the Foodies are between 50 and 70 years old.
“Once, two young women in their 20s came to a dinner. They took one look at the rest of us ...” Rothstein says, before being interrupted by laughter (including his own). “Seriously, they were welcome. Age really doesn’t matter.”
The group has had visits from prospective members who were decidedly not gourmets. One man couldn’t cook. “He said, ‘I was looking to meet girls,’ ” Rothstein recalls with a laugh.
Rothstein says the Foodies are not all excellent cooks. But, he says, “we are a congenial and adventurous group of people who share a passion for food. We love cooking, as well as learning about and sharing information regarding the science, art, history, production and cultural significance of food.”
Once, the Foodies hired a Chinese chef to give a tour of a Korean supermarket and to identify the exotic items in the store and how to cook them. The chef and members of the Columbia Foodies then prepared a dinner together.
Many of the Foodies have become good friends. Six of them took a trip to the Hudson Valley last year. They toured a duck foie gras farm and other culinary landmarks, one of which was a barbecue restaurant. “When I called to make a reservation, they laughed,” says Rothstein. “It looked like a dump. But it was the best barbecue.”
The Foodies also occasionally have F&G (Foraging and Grazing) outings to areas with interesting ethnic groceries, bakeries and other food-related attractions and “blitz the neighborhood chomping away on goodies as we go,” says Rothstein.
For the veal, prepared by Rothstein, Peg Lawrence and Iris and Peter Hirsch, the chefs scouted out the best ingredients for the stuffing at an Italian grocery store in Baltimore.
“Because this was a complicated recipe, we decided to get together,” says Iris Hirsch.
There was also the trip to the butcher in Oella for the extremely large order for 14.89 pounds of veal. The day before cooking the veal, they made the stuffing and the stock -- from scratch, of course.
“I think this rivals the rack of lamb,” says Demes, referring to another meal shared by the Foodies.
Talk turns back to Child. Demes talks about meeting Jacques Pepin, the French chef who often collaborated with Child, on a foodie cruise that she and Rothstein took.
Drinking wine was an integral part of Pepin’s cooking classes. “I’ve never laughed so hard,” says Demes. “He’s really hilarious.”
But it’s not all caviar and charcuteries. The group also volunteers for food-related charitable causes including making a meal for families staying at the Hope Lodge, where people who travel to Baltimore for cancer treatments can stay. At that meal, the Foodies make comfort foods such as mac and cheese.
For their regular meetings, members plan a menu and cook collaboratively. One makes an appetizer. Another takes on a side dish and so on. Recipes are often swapped by e-mail. A cookbook is compiled with the final recipes before each dinner.
For a recent Italian dinner they made six courses, including Rabbit Ragu with Pappardelle, Honey-Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Fennel, and Fava Beans with Potatoes and Artichokes.
Highlights of the fall “pumpkin” dinner included Pumpkin Mascarpone on Crostini with Caramelized Onion, Persimmon and Stilton Cheese, Salad with Caramelized Pumpkin Seeds, Pears and Pomegranate, and Baked Pumpkin with Apples, Onions and Bacon.
At the Julia Child dinner, there are fresh snips of parsley for the turnip stew and carefully chosen wine. Demes worries that the salad will suffer because the quail eggs are not fresh and poached as they should be.
But there are no complaints.
Members say they are passionate about food, but not snobby.
“They’re all lovely people. They’re very tolerant,” says member Diane Sooy, a retired human resources professional from Ellicott City.
Sooy had to make her tart several times before she got it just so. But, she says, “it’s fun to push yourself.”
For more information about the Columbia Foodies, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.