Louis Butler, known around town as The Pittsburgh Pie Guy for the homemade pies he sells at farmers markets and other spots, is molding both his business and his social life around food -- and he's inviting fellow Pittsburghers to join in.
His latest creation, the Pittsburgh Gastronomy Club, unites amateur and professional cooks in their shared love of not only food, but also its preparation.
The idea sprung from a trip he took with a friend a few years ago to San Sebastian, Spain. Locals there have formed "exclusive, old, steeped-in-tradition gastronomy clubs -- usually men who cook, eat, drink and have fun together," he said.
He and his friend sat in on some of these gatherings, and the linchpin always was the act of cooking together.
Mr. Butler came home wanting to give this a try in Pittsburgh, but at the same time, he was working with his fellow Duquesne University alumnus Wren McGalliard to start their pie-baking business.
So the Gastronomy Club idea went on the back burner for a time -- but now it's on.
Mr. Butler is trying to schedule two events per month -- a cooking demo in a fairly public location and a cook-all-day-fest in a member's home.
Folks can sign up at meetup.com/Pittsburgh-Gastronomy-Club, where events are posted. There's no cost to join, though events generally have a nominal fee to cover the ingredients.
Mr. Butler is doing pie-baking demos "because that's what I do best." His hope is that others will come forward to demonstrate foods and techniques that they do especially well.
And for "day of cookery" events, which he started holding with friends a few years ago, he opens his home for multi-course meals where everyone pitches in with the food prep. He tried a "chaos cooking" event where each person brought ingredients for a dish and they cooked their own dishes side by side, but he prefers events where he plans the menu and buys the ingredients and then everyone chips in on the cooking. He likes to start around 9 a.m. and serve breakfast foods and breakfast cocktails to anyone who shows up that early. Then he provides snacks and beer for people to nosh on throughout the day while they cook -- and then they spend several more hours enjoying the food.
Because people can simply sign up on meetup.com, he often doesn't know many of the folks who attend. He usually caps the events at his East Liberty home at a couple dozen attendees.
Eventually, he hopes other club members will begin hosting days of cookery at their homes, too. And he and Mr. McGalliard hope to open a cafe for the pie business later this year, at which point they would hold cooking demos in the cafe.
Mr. Butler hopes to allow amateur and professional cooks to "cross-pollinate," which isn't always easy because service-industry employees tend to work long and irregular hours. But he hopes these events -- especially the days of cookery -- will allow people to "clear their schedules, slow down and make food together."
For more information, go to pghpieguy.com or meetup.com/Pittsburgh-Gastronomy-Club.
Do you do Sunday dinner?
Speaking of slowing down and enjoying food together, does your family do Sunday dinner? Perhaps multiple generations gather in the matriarch's home and share favorite family dishes, or maybe you serve your main meal after church at lunchtime and always fix a pricier cut of meat or a homemade dessert. Maybe you struggle to keep up the tradition now that Sundays are filled with kids' sports and other events, but your family still makes Sunday dinner a priority.
If you're a Sunday dinner kind of family, I'd like to talk with you. Please e-mail me at email@example.com with your name, phone number and the best times to call, and I'll get in touch.
Downton/Dahntahn Abbey: Two local musical groups, Renaissance Baroque and Pittsburgh Camerata, present this blend of elegant and informal: "Downton"/ Upstairs, where an elegant menu of tea sandwiches, smoked salmon, scones and other delicacies will be served with claret and sherry, and "Dahntahn"/Downstairs, where snacks will be served with English mild ale. Guests are invited to dress in 1920s-era clothing, and members of Renaissance & Baroque and Pittsburgh Camerata will provide musical entertainment. 4 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 2, at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Shadyside. Tickets: $50 (guest level) or $75 (patron level) in advance; $60 at the door. 412-361-2048 or rbsp.org.
Dog Lovers Bake Sale: Sale of puck-shaped dog snacks packaged with 3-inch vinyl magnets that read, "My Dog is a Pens fan" and other doggie treats. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 2, at Giant Eagle in Jeannette. Proceeds benefit the Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center. goodpawsgoodcause.org.
Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Benefit Dinner: Tea-smoked salmon, tuna tartare, mushroom risotto, swordfish and more, plus wine pairings. 6 p.m. March 11 at Eleven Contemporary Kitchen, Strip District. $150. Reservations: 412-977-6514.
Giant Eagle Kids of STEEL Day: Bring kids to discover nature and visit special stations related to nutrition and fitness. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 1, at Phipps Conservatory, Oakland. Activities included in Conservatory admission. phipps.conservatory.org.
Rebecca Sodergren: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @pgfoodevents.