How to Start Your Own Cookbook Club

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October 14, 2020

Awhile ago we posted an Instagram story about our wonderful experience attending our first ever ‘Cookbook Club.’ Before joining, we had never heard of a ‘cookbook club’, nor had any idea what was in store for us. Honestly, we were a bit nervous, but we made our dish and headed to our host’s backyard, and the rest is history.

The fact that everyone attending not only had to contribute, but that we all cooked different dishes from the same book created a common thread that stitched the whole evening, and frankly all of us, together. It was a collective experience; the triumphs were celebrated and devoured, and if there were disasters they were welcomed in solidarity with a smile and some laughs as the story was shared. It was a beautiful evening where the narrative was written by all of us, and gratifying because we got to taste each chapter. 

After the evening was over, we asked if we could share and open it up to you–our readers–and the response we received was overwhelming. We had no idea how many of you would be interested in participating in something like this. In fact, the response was so huge, that a single cookbook club could not accommodate the demand…so we thought, what if people begin their own “Lausanne Cookbook Club Chapters” ? With that, we asked our friend Kelly, founder of the original Lausanne Cookbook Club, to weigh in and give some advice. Of course the timing isn’t optimal as we are in the midst of a pandemic, but perhaps this will get the ball rolling and we’ll see plenty of clubs popping up around the city in the near future once ‘this is all over.’  Now over to the expert and the most intentional person we’ve ever met when it comes to gatherings:

By Kelly Barneche

An evening around the table, a flavorful feast with friends—it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures, isn’t it? Now imagine that each of those friends has brought a dish from the same cookbook and that your conversation revolves around all things recipes, eating, and cooking. Welcome to a cookbook club!

How it works: A cookbook club is a group that meets regularly to explore the offerings of a selected cookbook or website. Sometimes members already own the cookbook, or sometime we search for a cookbook author’s recipes online. I started the Lausanne Cookbook Club a few years ago out of a desire to connect with friends new and old who share my passion for trying new recipes and for good home cooking.

Our group has met monthly for the past few years (including on Zoom earlier this spring). We’ve gladly welcomed new members, have said good-bye to those who’ve moved, and have celebrated new jobs, new babies, and other new life developments. It has become a special time that we look forward to in the midst of the busy season of life many of us find ourselves in.

A note on gatherings and health: I take seriously the host’s role in ensuring that gatherings are safe. I have always cancelled or postponed when we’ve had illness in our family, and I recently cancelled a gathering when it became clear that it was too cold to dine outside and that we couldn’t safely meet inside due to rising COVID cases in the region. Each person has their own comfort level with this kind of risk, but I think it’s important to create an environment where members can trust that they’re gathering under conditions that will allow everyone to relax and enjoy themselves.

So, would you like to start your own cookbook club? Here are a few tips:

Keep it simple

A cookbook club should be easy to host and to attend. A few ground rules help keep the vibe relaxed. For example, in our cookbook club, there’s no need to double or triple recipes—we always have plenty—and dishes need to be ready on arrival so that we can avoid chaotic, last-minute prepping (though tossing a salad at the last minute is okay).

Keep it cozy

Some hosting basics go a long way. Candles and music are an easy way to create an intimate atmosphere. Keep the group small enough for good conversation (6-8 people is ideal), and be sure to introduce newcomers to the group.  You will love watching cookbook club members become friends!

Keep it organized

We use a Facebook group, email, and Google forms for keeping in touch, deciding on dates, and signing up for what we’ll bring. As the host, I usually sign up last and fill in the gaps to make sure we have a well-rounded meal, which always includes dessert (of course).

Keep it seasonal

A cookbook club offers a great opportunity to seize the season! We’ve done “favorite salads” in summer, Julia Child comfort food in chilly weather, and every December we do a holiday cookie exchange that’s become a highlight of the year. We take the season into account when selecting our next cookbook to try out.

Keep it original

Our cookbook club has developed a little ritual when we sit down to eat, where we each take turns “presenting” our dish, explaining why we selected it and what our experience was in making it. The best stories include some sort of kitchen disaster, which is always good for a laugh. We then try the dish and comment on it, being generous with the compliments and also making suggestions for what might make it better. Each group will develop its own traditions, which is part of the fun!

With a good framework in place, starting a cookbook club is a simple way to discover new favorite recipes, experiment with new cuisines, and, most importantly, to develop a lovely community of people who love exploring and eating together. Bon appétit!

If you would like to start your own cookbook club and have questions, I’d be happy to help! Email me at thelausannecookbookclub@gmail.com

Not ready to start or join your own cookbook club, but want to elevate your at-home cooking? You can also read about Kelly’s favorite cookbooks here.

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