Tips & Techniques

10 Tips for Starting Your Own Cookbook Club

July  8, 2016

After grabbing yet another cookbook to bring upstairs at bedtime, I knew it was officially time to start a cookbook club.

Reading a cookbook is similar to reading a novel (you are transported to another time and place, experience someone else’s story, and wake up inspired), and cookbook clubs are similar to regular book clubs. But cookbooks don't lend themselves solely to discussions of characters, plot, or theme. Instead, we eat our way through the chapters.

Can you guess which book this feast came from? Photo by Elizabeth Cecil

This winter, the Martha’s Vineyard Cookbook Club met for the first time, and we have continued to read, cook, and eat together ever since. Our cookbook club meetings are the ultimate potluck dinners, made even better by the obvious themes and flavors of the meal.

The evenings are informal, either hosted in a summery backyard or wintry kitchen, with a mix-match of plates, napkins, and platters. The conversation is always about the food: which recipes were surprising and those to make again. And we leave full, happy, and ready to dive into the next book.

In good weather, host the club outside! Who needs chairs? Photo by Elizabeth Cecil

This June we read, cooked, and ate from Kristen Miglore’s Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook. How often can you say your dinner table is covered with recipes from Union Square Café, Heidi Swanson, Patricia Wells, and Nigella Lawson?!

Photo by Elizabeth Cecil

Needless to say, the spread was impressive.


Here are my tips for starting a cookbook club.

(Jump to the section below to see exactly which Genius recipes we cooked.)

1. Aim for twenty-five members assuming three-quarters of participants can come to each gathering. This number results in a big meal but isn’t too large for hosts to manage.

2. Think seasonally. A raw food book will taste much better in warm weather, while February is the perfect time for that comfort food book you’ve been eyeing.

3. Cookbooks are not cheap, so contact your local bookstore and ask for a group discount. Typically, if five or more copies are sold to a group, a bookseller will offer 10 to 20% off. In place of buying, you can always request the book from your local library, share copies between friends, or photocopy recipes.

4. Look to the past. You don’t have to read only the new hot cookbooks—there are a lot of lesser-known gems out there! Ask your grandmother or neighbor what their favorites are.

5. Use a shared Google document for a dinner sign-up sheet so members don’t double up on an item and the meal is well-balanced.

Photo by Elizabeth Cecil

6. Ask guests to bring a dinner plate, drinking glass, and cloth napkin. This will take a load off the host and make cleanup a snap (just rinse your plate and go). Also, encourage people to bring plastic containers for taking home the handsome leftovers.

7. Plan to meet every six weeks. A monthly meeting is a big commitment and bi-monthly get-togethers can squash momentum. We started off meeting on Saturday evenings but recently moved to Wednesdays as not to conflict with family time.

8. Choose the next book as a group over dessert to avoid lengthy email exchanges. We pick by a casual vote after an open discussion. Rather than choosing a book based on reviews, our picks are influenced by personal recommendations.

9. Keep a running list of book ideas so the conversation around what to pick next doesn’t have to start at square one each month. We have read Soul, Food, Love by Alice Randall; A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus by Renee Erickson, and Genius Recipes, and our long list of titles for the future includes The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi, and At Home in the Whole Foods Kitchen by Amy Chaplin.

10. Still come if you don’t have time to cook. Everyone will understand. Just bring wine!

Photo by Elizabeth Cecil

Our Genius Recipes Cookbook Club Menu

Snacks & Drinks:

Soups & Salads:

Photo by Elizabeth Cecil
Photo by Elizabeth Cecil

Meaty Mains:

  • Cory Schreiber's Salt-Baked Herbed Salmon with Red Onion-Caper Vinaigrette
  • Suzanne Goin's Grilled Pork Burgers

Meatless Mains:

Vegetables:

Desserts:

Photo by Elizabeth Cecil

Sarah Waldman is a food writer and recipe developer. She lives on Martha’s Vineyard with her husband and two young sons. Her book, Feeding a Family: A Year of Simple and Healthy Family Dinners (Roost Books) hits shelves in April of 2017.

Elizabeth Cecil is an editorial and commercial photographer specializing in food, lifestyle and travel photography. Her work has been featured in Bon Appétit, Saveur, Coastal Living, and The Wall Street Journal. Elizabeth lives on Martha's Vineyard and is the founding photo editor of Edible Vineyard magazine.

8 Comments

Kristen M. July 12, 2016
I'm so in awe of all the beautiful food you all made for this picnic—you made the book look *really* good :) I love the idea of your club, too. My parents have been organizing a dinner group called Munch Bunch for decades (for a while they had two going). It wasn't always focused around a single cookbook—usually a common theme or cuisine, chosen and doled out by whoever was hosting, much like stingraystirs' group. It always seemed like the best way way to keep up with friends, learn more about cooking, and have memorable, low-pressure dinner parties all at once.
 
Author Comment
Sarah W. July 12, 2016
Thanks Kristen! Happily, summer dinners in the backyard made up of Genius Recipes are pretty photogenic! You nailed it - the perfect low pressure dinner party!
 
stingraystirs July 9, 2016
Great story! I just became a member of a newly formed cookbook club in Venice, CA. We have cooked from "The Food of Morocco", "Aromas of Aleppo", "Made in India", "Mamushka" and the next meeting will feature "The New Spanish Table". One thing that we do (that makes it a bit more personal and cuts down on the red tape) is have a host for each meeting. They choose the cookbook (food they grew up with etc., favorite chef, new hot book they want to try). We have ten members and the host goes through the book and picks ten recipe options - from starters to dessert, so there is a nice variety. It is posted via email and everyone chooses the dish or dishes they would like to make. Of course, additional cooking from the book is encouraged, along with recipe notes and comments to be discussed at the meeting. It's nice to see what other clubs are up to. Again, I really enjoyed the story.. Thanks Sarah Waldman!
 
Author Comment
Sarah W. July 10, 2016
Wow, great book recommendations here! Thanks for your tips!
 
Bevi July 8, 2016
This does sound like fun. I miss the community feedback and knowing what members do with their cooking time. The Feasts come to mind. Those articles were fun to read and the feasts were so imaginative. It would be great if food52 cookbook clubs formed and members submitted articles on their efforts. (I agree drbabs, 25 seems like a lot!)
 
Author Comment
Sarah W. July 10, 2016
Bevi, I love this idea! It would be fun to hear from food52 cookbook clubs across the country / world.
 
drbabs July 8, 2016
Wow, so fun. 25 people?! Seems like a lot. I do love the idea of bringing your own plate and utensils though.
 
Author Comment
Sarah W. July 10, 2016
Thanks Barbara! Yes, 25 is a lot. Our email list has 25 but typically around 15-17 make it to the meeting. I hope you have fun thinking about starting a club of your own!