How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Start A Cookbook Club

how to start cookbook club

Back in January 2016, I made a resolution: I was going to start a cookbook club.

I had read about cookbook clubs many months before, but wasn’t sure it was something that I could do. Admittedly, I wasn’t a great cook. Cooking meat terrified me (JK it still does). I didn’t know how people were able to stray from a recipe, like at all. Basically, I had a lot going against me.

I decided to go for it anyway (I was on a bit of a planning kick). I started asking a few friends what they thought of the idea, and we had our first meeting that February where we made dishes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty.

How to start a cookbook club
Our small victories for Small Victories

There are a lot of great reasons to start (or join) a cookbook club:

  • You get to hang out with your friends
  • It’s like having a dinner party but with way less stress and expense. You only need to cook one dish!
  • It challenges you to try new foods or styles of cooking
  • It helps you dive into those cookbooks that have been gathering dust on your shelf (They just look so pretty!)
  • And, if you host, it will make you clean up your house (that’s a personal one for me)

Now that I thoroughly convinced you that you need to start one yourself, here are a few tips to get you started:

Pick a format that works for you

Cookbook clubs can take many different structures (making the meal together vs. alone, meeting in a public space vs. someone’s home). Pick whatever works best for your group of friends.

Pick your means of communication:

My cookbook club is set up as a Facebook group because 1) Almost all of my friends actively use Facebook, rather than email 2) It’s easy to create events and 3) Everyone can see what everyone else is making. In this format, I can create polls to pick a book or date, provide recipe listings for everyone to see, and send people the recipes they are requesting. If you opt to use email instead, Google has some excellent tools that will allow for collaboration (Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, Google Calendar).

Pick your meeting schedule:

When forming the club, we decided that weekends were the best time for us to meet (far fewer commitments and the time to actually make something). My first year of cookbook club was pretty inconsistent. Admittedly, I took a few months off because it was just getting too hard to plan around everyone’s schedules. In the second year of hosting, I tried to stick to the second Sunday of every month. That’s worked slightly better, but schedules still get in the way. That’s okay, though! It’s fine to miss a month or two.

Pick your host(s):

In the first year of the club, we tried to rotate hosts (and locations) for each gathering. This is a great idea if you have enough people in your group with the capacity to host a large dinner. But considering that my group is full of twenty-somethings who live in a city with fairly small apartments, it’s much easier to stick to one place so everyone doesn’t have to invest in the supplies. I now have enough folding chairs (Yay Ikea!) and a folding table for such occasions.

Be accommodating

Whenever I’m selecting cookbook options for the group, I make sure that the book has recipes for all levels of cooks. But, still, cooking can be really intimidating for some people. If you have a friend that wants to join, but doesn’t want to cook, let them come anyway and ask them to bring the wine! Maybe they’ll be inspired and want to cook next time.

It’s also important to be accommodating of people’s finances. Everyone doesn’t need to buy the book to participate. If you’re doing a book that will require people to buy lots of uncommon ingredients, go in with another member on a recipe or share ingredients.

And, as with all dinner parties, remember to take into account people’s dietary restrictions. If I know a vegetarian is going to be joining that month, I’ll check that the book has a good variety of vegetarian recipes and choose one myself so they have a few options.

Keep it small

It may be tempting to invite everyone you know, but this is a dinner and your house is only so big. I typically try to keep mine somewhere between 6 and 10 people. My club has about 25 people that receive invitations and I typically expect a less than half to be able to come. Keeping the group on the smaller side will also make for a more engaging conversations at dinner.

If you love the idea of cookbook club, but can’t do one IRL, there are a few great options for online groups (from Food52 and Tasting Table, in particular). I have enjoyed participating in these, and they have helped me vet books for my IRL cookbook club. It’s also really great when the cookbook selection aligns so I can see a lot of the recipes.

Do you participate in a cookbook club IRL or online? Let me know in the comments below!

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