I am a somewhat controlling person, but through writing cookbooks and teaching cook classes, I’ve learned to let go, to observe and be a better learner. I know that just as I interpret other people’s recipes, other people will interpret my recipes. Most times, I see their takes and read their reactions online. That’s why whenever I’m able (and invited), I attend cookbook club events. It’s one of the few opportunities for me to meet food lovers, taste what they created from my cookbooks, and deepen my understanding of home cooking.
What is a cookbook club?
It’s an edible book club with regular potluck gatherings on whatever title, author, or topic that the members agree on. It’s an amazing way to experience food because you’re not alone. For example, you can cook through a book without cooking through it yourself. You also learn from other people because members discuss their experiences and share tips. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.
A couple weeks ago, my husband and I went to a meet-up hosted by the San Francisco Cookbook Club. It was on a Sunday and started at 5:30pm. I only knew, Bebe Carminito, the person who invited me. “You’re in store for a feast,” she said. I wore my eating outfit.
I had no idea that the club members in attendance would be cooking from four (4!) of my books. The table at the top shows only about 85 percent of the food that was prepared for the potluck.
Cookbook Club members had specific questions for me to answer, but also taught me a lot about cooking.
Be Fearless. Adapt.
When it comes to potlucks, people are brazen. At the SF Cookbook Club gathering, one person didn’t have time to get pasta for the umami garlic noodles (Vietnamese Food Any Day, page 194) so she substituted instant ramen noodles. The dish was fine.
The above spiced tofu and vegetable fritters (soy paneer pakoras, Asian Tofu, page 71) are best right out of the fryer but they were still awesome hours later with the mint chutney! The gal who cooked up the tofu dishes said she wanted to learn about tofu so she dove into my book.
In the top photo at bottom right, there’s a pyrex bowl of ribs simmered in caramel sauce (suon kho, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, page 148). The person who made it had never made Viet caramel sauce before but my recipe walked her through it perfectly. At room temp, the riblets were awesome.
The gal who made this deconstructed banh mi salad prepared 4 kinds of pickles from The Banh Mi Handbook and put some wonderful steak into the salad. She said the book demystified banh mi for her and she’s deeeelighted.
And if you take a pot of soup in a car, wrap foil around the edge to secure the lid in place. And, if carrying two other dishes and taking a Lyft to the event, hold that soup pot in your lap to prevent accidents!
Mistakes Happen. Be Creative and Move on.
Bebe mistakenly burnt the first batch of cashew sesame brittle (VFAD, page 217) and was out of cashews, so she used a brimming 1/2 cup of black sesame seeds instead. It tasted fantastic with the Viet coffee ice cream and red bean and coconut ice cream that Pat, another member, made!
It was such well-organized event that I assumed the cookbook club had been around for a long time. To find out their keys to success, I followed up with some questions for Bebe.
How did the Cookbook Club start?
Our San Francisco Cookbook Club started through the FOOD52 Cookbook Club on Facebook. Lauren Ruben reached out on Facebook via Food52 and asked if there was anyone in San Francisco who wanted to start a Cookbook Club. I immediately responded with a resounding “YES!” as well as Poonam S. (the hostess of your event), Pat A., Jan H., and a few others. Our first meetup was March 25, 2018 and we covered the works of Ottolenghi. There were 10 of us at that first dinner and we were the first 10 original members.
How many people are members?
We currently have 74 members, and before we accept a new member, we ask that they answer a brief questionnaire. For example: do they live in SF, why they are interested in our group, what they expect in terms of attending our events and a few other basic questions.
How many people administer the club and what are your responsibilities?
We have 7 active Admins, myself included, and we all have different responsibilities. We all share duties of membership admittance. I am also in charge of event announcements and the planning of events. Sara is in charge of Doodle Poll postings to help schedule events, Pat assists in membership admission, Poonam is in charge of posting rules and regulations, and Lauren is also in charge of rules and regulations.
Everything else we all collaborate on. We hold monthly administrative meetings to discuss books we’d like to cover, growth, group collaboration and how to make a more cohesive and enjoyable experience for everyone. We want to promote an exceptional awareness of Cookbooks, Food Trends, Food Writers, Food Events and all things related to fostering a love for cooking.
We plan our event themes and authors we want to cover 6 months in advance. We are still learning as we are only a year old. I’d have to say our biggest most imposing challenge is arranging host homes to accommodate 12 to 20 people. In San Francisco, that can be tricky due to space restrictions and the lack of ample parking.
How do you organize monthly meet-ups?
We organize meet-ups through our Facebook page. We post a Doodle Poll first to see when members can attend and to check everyone’s availability. After a week, we select a date based on that poll and hopefully by then we’ve secured a host.
Depending on the space we’ve secured, we sometimes set a cap and arrange from there. This is all done through our FB Page. Our next meet-up is in May, date TBD as well as location and we are covering the Cookbooks and works of Alice Waters.
[Bebe and Poonam told me that members use an online spreadsheet to sign up and specify what dish(s) they’ll bring. That enables the group to have an entire meal organized.]
I can tell that Cookbook Club members are busy professionals. What are the payoffs for participating?
I’d have to say most of our members save a few, are not in the professional food world and have other professions and careers. Everyone who is a member is passionate about Food, Cookbooks, Cooking and meeting like-minded culinary creatives.
This is a great platform for members to showcase their cooking chops, skills and try new techniques, cookbooks and recipes. It’s also a great way to connect, make new friends and build relationships with a common denominator, the love of food.
I’ve met some of my closest friends this last year through this talented diverse and unified group. We are seeing other chapters starting up in various locations in the Bay Area, and to me, that’s extraordinary!
I am proud to see where this is taking us, I’m looking forward to what’s ahead with our group and can’t wait to plan our next gathering.
How to Join a Cookbook Club
You don’t have to start your own cookbook club to be part of a good one, but you can learn from the SF folks about how to keep one going. They divide up the responsibilities! A while back I attended a cookbook club event where the leads were one or two married couples, and the momentum waxed and waned according to their life happenings.
If you don’t want to launch one, look for an existing one. I noodled around and found that Meetup.com is a good place to start. Search for “Cookbook Club”. Co-working and community gathering spaces like the Ruby SF have a cookbook club. Maybe your locale has something similar?
If you can’t find a cookbook club near you, join a virtual one! Here’s are three to consider. They all operate via Facebook pages so you need a FB account.
More Cookbook Club Questions? Here’s a helpful post from Serious Eats with lots of details. Have experiences or tips to add about cookbook clubs? Please share! Bon Appetit!
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If you’re in NYC this Saturday, April 27, join for this awesome party at Kitchen Arts and Letters! Free drinks, snacks by Di An Di restaurant, and gifts with a purchase of the book!