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.”