I recently joined a food lit book club that is being offered by my local food-centric community center, 18 Reasons. The center organized the event, chose the titles and provided the facilitator and space. But this is definitely something that an individual can start on their own.
Basic Book Club Information
Decide how large you want your group to be and whether you want to reach out to just friends/friends of friends or broadcast the invitation wider.
Decide how often you want to meet. Once a month is a classic book club rule, giving members enough time to read the book with out losing momentum. Other considerations are day of the week and time. It's good to keep this consistent so people can plan accordingly and you don't take up too much time each meeting finding the next date. Try to plan out at least six months in advance.
It's also helpful to have the first gathering be an organizing meeting where much of this is discussed and sorted out, and participants get a chance to meet each other and get acquainted.
Decide if you want to hold your group in private homes or in more public locations like a cafe, community center or church basement. If you are doing a cookbook club, it may be helpful to have a functional kitchen available.
Do you want to facilitate it yourselves or invite someone in? There are professional leaders who are skillful in guiding the discussion and making sure that everyone has a chance to participate. Sometimes your local bookstore can provide this for you, as well as your public library.
Food Lit Book Club Specifics
Food Lit books are generally memoirs with a food-focused theme, but the definition can extend to novels with a similar focus. Also possible are non-fiction titles about food such as Salt or The Soul of a Chef.
Things to try:
• Ask a few members to bring something they've cooked that was inspired by the book or from recipes in the book. I know of one book club where the host is rotated each month and the host chooses the book...and cooks a dinner for everyone based on the book. Could be a lot of fun or too much, depending.
• Check your local universities to see if there is someone on staff who is an expert or writing their dissertation on either the author of your book, or the era or location, etc. When we read MKF Fisher in my club recently, we were fortunate to have a guest visitor who is working on a MFK Fisher biography, providing us with interesting background information and historical events.
Cookbook Club Specifics
In general, cookbook book clubs choose a cookbook and then, with some coordination, everyone brings a dish to a meeting for all to share. An alternative idea is to have each member (individually or in teams) take on a dish from the cookbook and then all cook together, sitting down in the end to enjoy your feast.
You can also choose a specific theme (a county, holiday, event, style of cooking, etc.) and everyone brings a dish and a copy of the recipe to share. Or, if they're prolific enough, explore the career of a specific person such as Julia Child or Edna Lewis.
Because part of the fun is discussing the book, the author, your experiences, it might be helpful to choose cookbooks that also have a strong narrative like Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries or David Chang's Momofoku.
Here's a few ideas for things you can do with your club, either during a meeting or as an extra activity.
• Get your knives sharpened. Arrange to have a mobile knife sharpener park outside your location and sign up participants to bring in their knifes to be worked on while the group meets.
• Invite a local chef in for lessons. Or a butcher, cheese maker, vintner or farmer/gardener.
• Take a field trip to a local producer, restaurant or farmers' market.
• Screen a film about the author or pair up a film with a cookbook. Vertical Ray of the Sun, for example, with Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. Or one of Marcel Pagnol's classic films from The Fanny Trilogy with a Chez Panisse cookbook.
An Incomplete List Food Lit Titles
There are dozens of good food lit titles available now. Please chime in in the comments with your own favorites!
• The Gastronomical Me or anything by MFK Fisher
• An Omelette and a Glass of Wine by Elizabeth David
• Best Food Writing series edited by Holly Hughes
• The Tummy Trilogy or anything by Calvin Trillin
• Home Cooking and More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin
• Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper by Fuchsia Dunlop
An Incomplete List of Cookbook Titles
Please share your recommendations in the comments!
• The Taste of County Cooking by Edna Lewis
• The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater
• Momofuku by David Chang
• Big Sur Bakery Cookbook by Michelle and Phillip Wojtowicz, Michael Gilson, and Catherine Price
Related: The Kitchn's Book Club
(Image: Globe Pequot Press)