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Tips for Starting a Cookbook Club

April 25, 2018
Tips for Starting a Cookbook Club

You read that right, there is a wonderful invention few people know about called cookbook club. Cookbook club is similar to book club, except that each month a group of friends makes different recipes from the same cookbook, and then gathers to share the results. It’s almost like a themed potluck. Less reading involved, a lot more eating – my kind of party. Here are a few insights and tips to help you start your very own!

First, a little background on how I found out about cookbook club in the first place. There’s this secret password…no just kidding. I was invited by a co-worker who knew that I loved to cook (though I hadn’t started a food blog yet). She and a few of her friends already had a cookbook club going, which convened once per month. I was super hyped to try it out. A cookbook club!? It sounded almost too good to be true.

I received a group email instructing everyone to pick one recipe from the cookbook of the month, along with a date and location for the get-together. I walked in to the house with my humble dish in hand and was immediately swept into the kitchen to join the conversation. My dish was set on the table with a myriad of other pots and platters, a colorful array of food. Once all the guests had arrived, each person took a turn to go around in a circle and say what they had cooked and any fun side notes or challenges about the recipe. I got to talk about cooking and food with a group of other ladies who liked to talk about cooking and food. It was like I had found my people, kindred spirits who also like going over all the details of cooking in an instant pot or the struggle to find the best Asian supermarket in DC. Then we ate and ate and ate.

Tips for Starting a Cookbook Club

That was four years ago, and since then I’ve met many wonderful people and am so grateful to be part of the community surrounding cookbook club. It has introduced me to new cookbooks and widely expanded my tastes and approach to cooking. You spend an hour making one dish, but in the end you get to taste many.

Here are some guidelines for starting your own cookbook club:

  1. Who to invite? That part is easy – friends and co-workers who like to cook or want to learn. Cookbook club can be very low stakes and you are not out to impress, just to spend time together and learn from each other! For choosing a host, my cookbook club rotates so that people take turns being the host, at apartments and houses alike. Space hasn’t been an issue – you do not need to have a sit-down table for 15. Instead people tend to lounge, perch, and sit on furniture and floor alike and get along just fine, and it adds to the casual atmosphere. Twice a year, once in the summer and once around the holidays, we open up invitations to to significant others and have a potluck when anyone can cook anything.
  2. When to have it? Decide on a meeting schedule with your group, whether that is once a month, every six weeks, or once a season maybe. If your group is small, a Doodle poll might help narrow down dates. Otherwise a chosen facilitator or the upcoming host decides on the date and time, and then is in charge of letting the group know. For us, late weekend afternoons seem to work best, though occasionally we’ll throw a late dinner party with lots of wine.
  3. Choose a cookbook and start an email chain. Whether the host or the group chooses the cookbook, give your attendees plenty of time to plan. Email everyone the details at least a month in advance so they have time to borrow the cookbook, find it at the library, or find a recipe online – sometimes our group focuses on a particular food blog rather than a physical cookbook. (No, we have not done a cookbook club for The District Table, and yes, I would be too anxious to go to it.) Attendees can respond to the email chain with the dish they’d like to make, so that hopefully you get a nice mix of recipes (Google spreadsheets would also be useful here). If there are any dietary restrictions, this would also be the best time to let them be known. My own cookbook club kept making vegetarian recipes for months, until we specifically talked about it and realized there were no vegetarians among us!
  4. Have a good time! The whole point is coming together and eating, after all. It’s fun to go around and have everyone explain what they made, and anything interesting about the ingredients or the process. You can start to learn tricks from the way your friends cook. And hey, sometimes recipes flop, and you can blame the recipe and laugh about it with other people who have all been in the exact same situation. But the show and tell portion is optional, it is quite difficult to wait after all, with all that food tempting you to dig right in.
Tips for Starting a Cookbook Club

My favorite meetings so far have been cooking from Diane Kochilas’ Greek Food for Life, including the Floating Greek Island in a Wine Dark Sea recipe (basically strawberries and meringues, so luscious!). I also really enjoyed the challenge of cooking from a Korean food blog, Maangchi, which had cute videos to accompany the recipes. It was a neat way to explore a different type of cuisine and get out of my cooking comfort zone. I made a Korean recipe called japchae, or glass noodles stir-friend with vegetables. It was easier than I expected and I’ve even repeated the recipe at home since then.

I wasn’t able to attend to our Momofuku cookbook club but heard it was amazing. If you’re having trouble choosing cookbooks, you could always start with a few crowd favorites: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Pioneer Woman, or Smitten Kitchen.

Tips for Starting a Cookbook Club

Some cookbook club veteran tips:

    • Pick a recipe for food that travels well. The food will most likely be served at room temperature, unless you’re hosting. Also bring your own serving spoons as a courtesy to the host.
    • Don’t forget about the drink recipes in a cookbook. Sometimes cocktail recipes have been the favorites of the whole meeting.
    • Paper plates and napkins are a great idea for easy clean-up, though it’s obviously up to the host.
    • Help yourself to small portions to start. When there are a dozen different options you will have trouble fitting it all on one plate. Small portions also means you get to try everything and then can go back for your favorites. And I truly encourage trying everything – you might end of loving a recipe that you would never have thought of making yourself.
    • Pack an extra tupperware for leftovers! At the end of the gathering we usually divvy up all the remaining food to take home. Leftovers: the bonus round of cookbook club.

No one has to be a professional chef to start a cookbook club. An adventuresome spirit, love of food, and willingness to try new things are the main the ingredients to beginning. Spend an afternoon connecting with old friends and meeting new ones. Over the past four years I have witnessed houses being bought and babies being born; we are sharing not only food but also our lives. We leave with bellies full, hearts full.

Tips for Starting a Cookbook Club

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