It can be hard arriving in a new place and finding your niche. Sometimes getting out into the community means joining up with an already existing group – it can be a real lifeline for some people. Sarah wrote about her experience joining a mahjong group to get outside her comfort zone, hoping to meet like minded people. But sometimes you can latch onto something that is right up your alley and get the same results!

There are a lot of different options for groups to join from the more traditional book clubs, hiking groups, regular old coffee mornings and play groups through to more diverse things like Sarah’s mahjong group. Joining groups isn’t something I am very good at. I am pretty independent, a home body and am happy to do my own thing. However, when I was invited to join a Messy Kitchen group I joined enthusiastically. I enjoy cooking and learning about others’ cuisines and eating habits, so it was a ‘right up my alley’ kind of group.

I have found it great and wanted to share the different ways and ideas around how you can run one. This is the first place I have been where there has been an actual formal group. It is a lovely way to meet like minded people and learn about other cultures and food habits.

The one I am a member of happens during the day. We make something together and then sit around and eat it. Each month a different person hosts and teaches us how to make something from their home country. It is usually based around a (loose) theme, for example one host chose different areas of France and we made one dish from each. When I hosted the theme was ‘smoko’ which is a term for morning tea in NZ and Australia. The host decides everything, does all the shopping and then everyone cooks together. All the participants pay in to cover the supplies.

The format here has allowed hosts to share dishes from their home country but that is just one way to approach it. The group could come up with ideas on what they would like to learn to cook and various people could offer to teach those things. Create a roster and off you go. Members could periodically bring along their favourite recipe and then everyone swaps and when its your turn to host, you make the recipe you received.

There are other ways where you don’t even have to cook together but rather cook at home and then come together to share and discuss. A little bit more like a supper club. But even this can be done in different ways. The host could make the main course with group members bringing along already made appetizers, side dishes and desserts. Another approach could be where you get sent a recipe by the host the week before allocating your appetizer/side dish/desert and you make that (to the best of your ability) and brings it along to go with the main dish that everyone makes together.

There are many different ways to organize a Messy Kitchen group and it will depend on your location, the number of people involved and the level of interest in actual cooking! Some people are very keen to learn new recipes and skills while for others it is more about getting together socially. No matter how you decide to structure the group, you need a head honcho who manages things and lets people know what is happening and where. It doesn’t take too much organisation and can all be done through a Facebook group but it does require one person to keep things on track.

If you decide to start a group like this, or are a member of one already, please share some ideas, pictures and recipes on our Facebook page. We would love to get some new ideas, and maybe a little inspiration for the kitchen.

Rachel Nelson is a New Zealand expat who has lived and worked in the US, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UAE, Qatar and Germany.