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Cookbook Clubs Are a Perfect Pairing for Foodies Who Love Books

Cookbook clubs come in all flavors: in-person and virtual, free or paid, local or national

By Sharon McDonnell

Love to cook? Check. Love to read? Check. Love to talk about food with others, sharing favorite dishes and tips? Check. Eager to learn to cook new dishes, and perhaps be pushed to cook one you're afraid to tackle alone?

A woman wearing an apron smiling. Next Avenue, cookbook club
Bebe Black Carminito in her kitchen  |  Credit: Courtesy of Bebe Black Carminito

Book clubs devoted to cookbooks tick all these boxes and come in all flavors: in-person and virtual, free or paid, local or national.

"I like to take people out of their comfort zone and challenge them without intimidating them, helping them get to know other cultures by cooking their food."

The cookbook club at Kitchen Arts & Letters, New York City's best-known and oldest cookbook store, has discussed "Taste of Persia" by Naomi Duguid, packed with recipes that use pomegranates, saffron, honey, mint and sumac; "Simply West African" by Pierre Thiam, a Senegal-born chef; and "Colombiana" by Mariana Velasquez, whose recipes include lemony bulgur chicken soup and tamarind pork with mint. Classics like "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" by Marcella Hazan have also been cookbook picks.

Culture and Cuisine

"I like to take people out of their comfort zone and challenge them without intimidating them, helping them get to know other cultures by cooking their food. It's a great way to let them experience diversity," says Annette Tomei, 55, the virtual book club's manager and host.

She "assigns" recipes to cook, offering about four choices per category – like breakfast, easy dinners and weekend projects, or appetizer, entrée and dessert. Then she leads two 90-minute meetings on Zoom for the same book each month.

The first discusses the food, writing style and design, and often features an author talk, where members can submit questions in advance or ask during the half-hour talk. In the second, members discuss their experiences cooking the dishes, and post photos.

"That's totally optional but more and more people are doing the second session because it's fun," she says. "Some members choose to make a multi-course feast."

"I treat this program as if it's a college class," adds Tomei, a former cooking instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, French Culinary Institute in New York (where she headed a department), New School for Social Research (her class was on the history of restaurants) and a food content provider aboard the Holland America Line cruise line.

"The real value is this is a curated community of like-minded people."

Members pay for a three-book quarter ($295) or a year ($995), which includes all cookbooks shipped to their homes, virtual meetings, extra content like articles related to the theme, shows to watch, books to read, beverage pairings and suggested discussion topics and online interaction between meetings. If you already have the cookbook, you get a store credit.

"The real value is this is a curated community of like-minded people. This isn't just 'cook five recipes and have a quick chat,' but a full interactive guided experience," says Tomei, who also leads food tours and online classes for Wander Eat and Tell.

Members are mostly older women from many states, from North Dakota to New Mexico. The club began when COVID did, as an outgrowth of a long-time cookbook author series Kitchen Arts & Letters ran at the 92nd Street Y (now 92NY), a block away.


Former chef Bebe Black Carminito, 50, hosts several cookbook clubs: an in-person club for women in San Francisco, a virtual club on Instagram and a virtual Italian food club. In the free monthly Get Cooking Cookbook Club on Instagram, people can pick any recipes they want from the cookbook chosen, then post photos with captions of the results.

'Cook-alongs or Bake-alongs'

For a group experience, she co-hosts "cook-alongs" or "bake-alongs": two recipes are assigned and people post captioned photos on the same weekend. "You have the option to do either, but most people do both," says Carminito, an ex-pastry and bread chef at A16, 20th Century Café and Marla Bakery, all in San Francisco. 

A couple siming together in front of a bookshelf. Next Avenue, cookbook clubs
Annette Tomei and owner Matt Sartwell at Kitchen Arts & Letters  |  Credit: Kitchen Arts & Letters

From "Shabbat,"by Adeena Sussman, a Tel Aviv cook, cheesy spinach phyllo pie and butternut squash pasta were the picks. From "Mother Grains"by Roxana Jullapat, it was white cheddar cornmeal biscuits and macadamia brown butter blondies. "Mumbai Modern,"a vegetarian cookbook that melds Indian and Californian cuisine by Amisha Gurbani, "Budmo!" a Ukrainian cookbook by Anna Voloshyna that re-interprets many traditional dishes, "Arabiyya" by Reem Assil and "The Cookie Book" by Rebecca Firth were other cookbook picks from Get Cooking, which started in 2018.

"We pick women-authored cookbooks and champion globally driven cuisine," says Carminito, who also co-hosts an in-person cookbook club for The Proof Collective, a club for women in the food industry (and foodies). The cost is the cookbook cost plus $10 for wine. The Italian cookbook club she hosts for QB Cucina includes all cookbooks shipped to homes, author talks, weekly online moderated discussions and free shipping of products from this cookware website ($94 for bi-monthly membership, $479 annual). The club is global, with some members in Australia and Canada.

Based on her experiences in the Seattle Cookbook Club, writer Tara Austen Weaver shares tips on how to start and conduct an in-person club. From her first visit, clutching a pumpkin-seed dip she made from Diana Kennedy's "The Essential Cuisines of Mexico," she describes the "magic" that evolves, from the obvious benefits of cooking one dish but sampling about a dozen in someone's home, making new like-minded friends to plunging into a book you might find daunting, like Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" or a cookbook on Vietnamese banh mi.   

"The appeal is that food is such an amazing connector, and recipes speak to the soul," Carminito adds. When she planned to end the Get Cooking club during COVID, members felt bereft. "People said NO — you have to keep doing this," she smiles. So, she did.  

Sharon McDonnell is a travel, culture, food, drink and “green” writer since 1999 in San Francisco, published in Conde Nast Traveler, Architectural Digest, AARP, CNN Travel,, TEATIME, Travel + Leisure, BBC Travel,, PUNCH, Blue Dot Living, The Telegraph (UK) etc. plus university magazines for Bryn Mawr, Princeton, U of Michigan, U of WA and U of WI and custom content for Silversea Cruises. She loves offbeat ideas, people and traditions, and has taken cooking classes in India, Morocco, Thailand, Malaysia, China, Italy, France, Bali and New Orleans. Read her work at
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