"The Hostess with the Leastest Room"

This was the headline for the news article written about me and my cooking group, What's Cookin Chicago today! Last month a writer and photographer for the Chicago Tribune came to my Wine & Dine events where we focused on Shiraz/Syrah. They asked questions about how I started, my involvement in the food industry, how my group has evolved over the past year, etc. The photographer took countless pictures while I hosted my event... and before I left, I reminded him that "Photoshop was his friend." (I don't feel I'm very photogenenic.) Needless to say, today the article was in print. I expected a small write up in an obscure corner of the paper.... but to my surprise, we got a full page with color pics! Wow. Just wow.

So without further ado, here is the link to the article, and I've copied/pasted it below in the event the link no longer works in the future:

The hostess with the leastest room
Coveted spots in apartment cooking classes fill up fast
By Danielle Braff Special to the Tribune
April 6, 2008

The street outside Joan "Joelen" Tan's Rogers Park apartment was cold and empty on a recent Saturday evening, but inside everyone was buzzing.

The approximately two dozen men and women from the Chicago area were clutching the dishes they had made for Tan's potluck dinner, and they were chatting happily. After all, they were the lucky ones who snagged a spot in one of's most sought-after groups.

Boasting nearly 800 members shortly after its debut last year, the What's Cookin' Chicago club is so popular that people stalk the Meetup Web site to be the first to RSVP for Tan's events, which she usually holds in her two-bedroom apartment about 12 times each month.

Tan, 31, said that she has always been social but that her love for people grew once she moved out of the suburbs and into Chicago with her husband. She decided to take advantage of everything the city had to offer.

She signed up for cooking events and classes and was thrilled—until she realized how much she was spending.

"I realized, 'Why not do it myself?' " she said.

So Tan logged on to, a free Web site filled with self-organized clubs and community organizations, and created her own cooking class.

Putting a lid on it

The first group met in March 2007, and three people attended. But as word of mouth spread, the events grew until Tan had to put a limit on the number of people, based on how many she could fit in her home.

The What's Cookin' Chicago club attracts men and women spanning all ages and socioeconomic classes. But what they all have in common is a passion for cooking. The events include cooking classes, wine tastings, potluck dinners, cake decorating and even ethnic restaurant tours.

Tan, who works as a corporate benefits consultant, always has a notebook in hand whenever she's on the train, in the supermarket or scouring the Internet for new group ideas.

She doesn't get paid for any of the cooking or organizing she does, but Tan recently also began organizing the What's Cookin' Boston, Detroit,
Maryland, Indianapolis and Washington, D.C., chapters—even though they're too far away for her to attend.

She also is the organizer for the Chicagoland "Nesties": In Love & Lovin' It, which attracts newly married women who want to socialize with other area women.

"I do this because I love it," Tan said. "It allows me to meet people. We've become really close, almost family-like."

But that doesn't mean there aren't problems. A recent batch of e-mails circulating through the group included complaints about being locked out of events because members weren't able to RSVP in time. Tan quickly doubled up on her events, scheduling a session earlier in the day and then repeating it in the evening, thus increasing members' chances to attend.

"It's getting impossible to get a spot in the group," said Art Davino, 60, who tends to skip Tan's cake decorating and the baking classes but always tries to get a spot in the potlucks and wine tastings. Davino added that he's not angry at Tan, whom he loves, but just wishes there were fewer members.

Yumi Masuoka of Lincoln Park said she has learned the trick to RSVPing in time. "I know that the RSVP notices go up on the 15th of the month," she revealed. "I think it's great."

Value added

One thing that's great about the group, Davino said, is its cost. Tan used to provide all the wine for the potlucks, until a member complained that he wanted better wines than she was serving.

So now Tan charges $5 per person so she doesn't have to foot the entire wine bill. And at $5 for a night out, including wine and a full meal, dessert and a lecture by Tan about the food and drinks, Davino said, "I can't beat it."

Once everyone grabbed their food at the most recent potluck, Tan led them into her living room, where she had set up tables and chairs.

Next to each place setting was a two-page informational packet she had prepared detailing the types of wine everyone would be trying.

Her husband, Louis Tan, walked around the room to pour the drinks as Tan stood before the crowd to begin the wine lecture she had studied the previous day.

"All I ask is that they leave knowing something new, and that they're full," Tan said.


  1. Congratulations to you Joelen!! What a great article, I just read it in the Trib today.I'm always in awe of your blog so I'm not surprised you would be discovered. I wish I was closer to you!

  2. Congratulations! Sounds like your business plans are taking off. Your group sounds like so much fun-makes me wish I lived in Chicago!

  3. That is so amazing! Congrats on the write up!!

  4. A full page with color pics in The Trib? WOW!!! Way to go! If I move to D.C. I'm certainly joining the chapter there!

  5. That is such a flattering article - I hope you're bursting at your seams with proudness, because you should be.

  6. Congrats on the feature article! I love your blog and use your recipes often!

  7. How awesome!!! Congratulations. That is a wonderful article.