Swine ‘n Dine.  That’s what we called our cooking club. There were 4 couples, and at least one person in each couple loved to cook, so we had some pretty spectacular meals. I still remember the shark empanadas that our Venezuelan friend, Oscar prepared.

Swine ‘n Dine faded away for various reasons, but we’ve missed that opportunity to eat together — and connect — with good friends.

I was surprised to learn that Spain takes that idea of eating together to a whole new level.  Just one of the tons of ways they do that is through what started as a gentleman’s “gastronomy club,” but has since morphed into all sorts of cooking and food-related clubs.

I had heard that in Spain there are loads of different kinds of peñas (clubs) of different sorts. I knew that gourmet cooking clubs for men had been popular in larger cities many years ago, but I was surprised to discover that one of our best Spanish friends, Fernando, had recently joined a “Peña Gastronomica.”

I was excited to have the opportunity to get first-hand info, so we invited Nando out so we could grill him. (Ok, not literally…) We plied him with wine and tapas at a nice tapas bar in Dénia, and he was happy to spill the beans.

Nando’s Peña Gastronimca is called “Ataula” — a Valenciano word meaning “at the table.” They have a very strict set of rules and Nando felt really fortunate to have been invited to join.  Here’s a quick look at their rules:

  • The max number of men is 20 at a time (but Nando says they aren’t strict about that). This happens to be a men’s club, but there are plenty of women’s and mixed gender clubs as well.
  • To join you must be invited by a current member.  You can’t simply ask to join.
  • The current member brings you along to one of the dinners. He pays your way for that dinner.  The idea is for you to get to know the members.
  • If you decide you want to join, you go a second time with the same member. This time you pay your own way.
  • After your second visit, the administrators of the club meet and decide if they want to include you.
  • If the administrators approve you, they talk with the rest of the members, very casually, and if all goes well, they invite you to join.
  • This is an eating club, vs. a cooking club. So each month you pay dues of 30 Euros.
  • The last Thursday of each month, the peña has a dinner at a nice restaurant, organized by one of the members.  You pay for your own dinner and drinks.  About 45 Euros is paid by each member, to cover food and drink costs and put a little in the pot for the guy who organized that dinner.
  • Once a year there is a foodie mini-vacation for the entire group. This is where your dues come in. The money you pay throughout the year pays your way to a great, not-too-distant dining destination.  The Club rents a van and a driver and everyone goes away for an overnight get-away at a location with a special restaurant. And believe me, there’s no shortage of those in Spain!

I have to admit, I was really surprised at the details and the effort that goes into the Peña Gastronimica. Everything is incredibly well organized and management is shared. I always knew Spaniards were serious about food, but every time I learn about something like this, I understand just how strongly they are committed to their roots of connecting with each over over incredible food.