Gastro Fiasco was founded in 1979 by now-retired lawyer Dan Shapiro. Over the years, the club has evolved from six young singles to four married couples. Today, the club’s long-standing members include Dan, his wife Jennifer Little, John and Kathy Verhagen, Kevin and Trish Kindley, and Kevin and Pat Keith. The club was first featured in the inaugural issue of Lethbridge living in Spring 1994.
“We’ve evolved,” says Dan. “It’s hard to believe that 40 years has just slipped by and it’s been wonderful, wonderful fun.”
The group meets four times per year with each couple hosting a meal. The host prepares the entrée while the other couples each pull up a task of soup/salad/appetizer, cooked vegetable/starch, and dessert/drinks. Each dinner party has a theme, some of which are quite unique. Sometimes they choose dishes from a certain country, such as Greece, Spain or Italy. Sometimes the theme takes a creative twist with ideas like Mama’s Favourite Recipes, Fifties Rock and Roll Diner, Wilderness, Marrakesh Express, Favourite Celebrity Chef, or Downton Abbey. It’s an opportunity for all to do some research, try new recipes and celebrate a tradition.
Conversations revolve around the latest news in politics, social problems, recent holidays taken or just catching up on each other’s busy lives. It’s apparent that these couples share more than food, fun and fellowship. Their lives are intricately woven together by the memories they have made over the past four decades.
“The sense of camaraderie is unbelievable,” says Dan. “It’s as if you’re sliding into a pair of comfortable slippers every time we meet. It’s been an amazing run.”
Dan says he loves and admires their commitment to maintain this tradition, which has taken them through life’s twists and turns, ups and downs. This group of friends has experienced a lot together over the years and watched each other grow.
“I feel blessed to have had these people stay committed to the tradition, because it would be so easy to let it slide. But they all feel very strongly about being together on these occasions,” he says. One example of this commitment is when Jennifer wound up in the hospital in Kalispell and they were scheduled for their date. They refused to hold the dinner without her, rescheduling to a date when she was better.
Having turned 70 last year, Dan is confident their friendship will continue to flourish. Although aware of the challenges that come with age, Dan is optimistic that the club tradition will continue as long as there is a driving force behind it.
“You need to have a driving force. If you don’t have someone who’s the nag, then it doesn’t happen,” he says with a laugh. “People get busy. They make excuses. Even now trying to get everybody together for a date takes a lot of work because the seniors are travelling or heavily involved in sports… So having dinner four times a year doesn’t sound like a lot, but given everybody’s schedule, it really takes some planning to coordinate.”
“We have every expectation to continue this as long as possible. The reality is we might lose members through death or divorce, but I hope even after I’m long gone, the club will still be functioning. But at some point, the tradition will end when we go.”
Dan has filled two large binders with memorabilia, including a record of every meal prepared, photos and personal accomplishments of its members. There are clippings of local newspaper articles, and a copy of the original article in Lethbridge living magazine.
He can tell you how many times they’ve done a particular theme by flipping to his handy index. It’s apparent as he flips through the pages, of the depth of the love and memories shared between the members of the group. Dan can’t help but smile at the evidence of friendships that have stood the test of time.
“These binders will be nothing but dust collectors, but by virtue of having you here and flipping through these, I can’t take the smile off my face thinking of all the times we had together. The things we did, what we ate, what we cooked, what we talked about, it was all just great.”