Group Gives New Meaning To Meeting Over Dinner

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Too many cooks may spoil the broth. But given the right supervision, even a hundred corporate executives with little or no background in cooking can prepare puff pastries, pancetta-cured steaks or even chocolate soufflés—all while becoming a stronger, more effective unit.

That’s the thinking behind Gourmet Gatherings, a San Francisco-based team of professional chefs that helps groups from 20 to 100 bond over a common goal: how to create a delicious meal.

“When people are making a delicious dish together, everyone has a role,” says Bibby Gignilliat, founder and executive chef for Gourmet Gatherings. “Sometimes we’ll have the company president teamed with an admin, and it will turn out that the admin is a really good cook. The president will have to look to the admin for expertise. It creates a level playing field.”

Gignilliat came up with the idea for Gourmet Gatherings five years ago while teaching at San Francisco’s Tante-Marie Cooking School. A client asked her to host a private cooking class for 40 visiting businessmen.

“At first, everyone was very formal and stiff, because they didn’t know what they were doing,” Gignilliat recalls. “But after 10 minutes, they were saying ‘Chef! Give me another project to do!’ I later received an e-mail from the organizer who said [the experience] had been the highlight for those businessmen during their two weeks in San Francisco.”

Today, Gignilliat guides groups through the process of preparing challenging menus, from a plate of tantalizing tapas to an entire four-course meal. By breaking her gatherings into smaller groups, and creating a sense of competition, Gignilliat helps build individual confidence and group cohesiveness. For example, the chef recently watched as six teams from Barclays Global Investors struggled to make appetizing appetizers within the kitchen of The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay.

“At first, people are hesitant, and so it’s my job to inspire confidence in the kitchen,” Gignilliat says. “When something goes awry, we fix it, and it becomes a learning point. People discover they really can make restaurant-quality dishes and they get inspired.”

Gignilliat’s clients leave Gourmet Gatherings educated, inspired and well-fed. They’re also much more appreciative of what it takes to craft a magnificent meal for a large group of people.

“I’ve had people remark to me that they never realized how much is involved in cooking fava beans,” Gignilliat says. “They walk into a restaurant after that with a greater knowledge of how much work goes into making a dish.”