How To Host a Cookbook Party

By Carolyn Stine November 12, 2018 

How a passion for cookbooks became a Brooklyn-based monthly dinner party, and how you can host one in your own home.

Here at Bashed, we love a good theme dinner. Host a Mexican Fiesta any day and we will be there, tequila and guac in hand! And don’t even get us started on the Harry Potter-themed cocktail party that we attended last year… But recently we started to think, how can we take this a step further? How can we plan a more complex and satisfying dinner party experience? Enter: the cookbook party.

We were absolutely blown away by Sam Sabol, the “Brooklyn Balaboosta” and hostess of the Cookbooking in Brooklyn dinner party series, which we attended this past weekend. So we sat down with her to pick her brain about how she came up with this brilliant concept, how we can host our own cookbook party, and all things food and entertaining. Read on for her incredible story (warning: this will make you hungry).

cookbook party

Q

Tell us about yourself, and how you got started cooking and entertaining!

A

Growing up, I was surrounded by family and friends celebrating the Jewish holidays around boisterous dinner tables. However, the kitchen was more of my parents’ domain. I never really stepped foot into the kitchen until I met my now fiance, who inspired me to start cooking for the both of us.

Fast forward a few years, and I decided to focus on my passion for food full-time, and attend the Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan. There, I met 15 other women from all over the globe. We all had different skill levels coming into the program, but we commiserated over sore feet and tedious tasks in the kitchen. Every day we prepared food together and, at the end, we sat down to eat. That sense of communal cooking invigorated me and inspired me to create a cook-along dinner party concept, which grew into the cook book club over the past year.

Q

So how did the idea of the cookbook party come to life?

A

Last year, we moved into a new apartment with a large center island and I realized quickly how friends would gather around the counter while I cooked. This was a huge departure from our previous home that had a very small galley kitchen which allowed for just one cook in the kitchen: me!

I also realized over the years that the pursuit of food knowledge is absolutely infinite. My cookbook collection has grown as a reflection of my desire to learn more about a specific cuisine or a chef. Cooking can be a solitary and isolating experience. I want to bring people into the kitchen to prepare a meal together, to nourish one another and have a really damn good time.

So, I decided to combine my love of hosting parties, cookbooks, and cooking with friends, and Cookbooking in Brooklyn was born. We’re ONE year old as of this October and still going strong!

My hope with this club has always been to be as inclusive as possible. Prospective guests are sometimes nervous about cooking a dish under pressure, but there’s always a perfect dish or drink for every level of cook! Also, as a trained chef, I love to interject tips and techniques while we’re all in the kitchen in a relaxed and informative way.

Q

How did you go about gathering people to attend?

A

For our first event, I invited a handful of friends over and made a meal out of one cookbook. From that meeting and posting on IG, we doubled the attendance the next time around!

Initially, I posted about the cookbook club exclusively on my personal Instagram account. Then, I created a separate account for Cookbooking in Brooklyn’s photos and recaps. I love to feature each guest and the dish. It’s significant to me in a busy city like New York City that people choose to spend a Saturday cooking and feasting in my home. I have had many guests tell me that it’s their favorite event they attend every month.

Some cookbook writers will repost on social media about our cookbook club, and that brings a lot of interest to what we do. I’m always grateful when a writer acknowledges the meal we’ve prepared from their cookbook. I also love to see when new cookbook clubs pop up after seeing Cookbooking in Brooklyn.

Q

How do you pick the cookbook?

A

I look for cookbooks that will have a variety of dishes for our kind of set up. We need small bites and finger food, we need family-style protein dishes, we need dishes that can be shared easily. I’m also mindful about seasonality. It wouldn’t make much sense to do a salad forward cookbook in December, but come July, all the fresh vegetables are happily welcomed. I also make sure there are dishes of all skill levels. Some people like a challenge while others want very simple recipes for the occasion.

Q

How do you structure/organize the dinner party?

A

This summer, I started a newsletter that I send out when I announce an event. In it, I include a google spreadsheet that becomes our menu. There are two columns: guest and dish.

I encourage guests to purchase the cookbook from their local book store but not everyone is interested in collecting cookbooks. That being said, many people go ahead and buy the book after the dinner because they’ve tasted the food and loved it. Some guests will check out a copy from the library or a bookstore.

Others will give me an idea of what kind of dish they’d like to contribute i.e.: vegetable side, main dish, dessert, cocktail and I’ll help them choose a recipe by giving them a couple of options.

Q

What’s the perfect number of people and dishes?

A

Most people are shocked when they hear that not only do I have 20 guests for a dinner party in my 700 square foot Brooklyn apartment but that we are also all cooking in my kitchen. It can be chaotic at times but the feedback I get tells me that what we’ve got going on is precisely what busy city dwellers are looking for. My home has become a place where people can kick off their shoes, eat with their fingers, make friends, and party.

Here’s what I have to say: my goal with this cookbook club is to foster a community for foodies here in New York City. Just because I host 20 people in my home doesn’t mean every cookbook club should or will look the same way. All you need to have a cookbook club party is you plus at least one other friend cooking exclusively out of one selected cookbook. Like any dinner party, it’s nice to have a starter or snacks to eat while you cook. A main dish plus a side or two and dessert is a nice place to start.

Some cookbook clubs are potluck style, and that works too! Cookbooking in Brooklyn is certainly unique since it’s a collaborative cooking experience. I don’t think there are too many rules to stick by— it is a party after all!

Q

What’s been your favorite cookbook party so far?

Oh man, this is hard to choose, but I would have to go with Cravings cookbook by Chrissy Teigen. I was out to dinner a few nights before the event with two cookbookers and we were joking how funny it would be to have a life-sized cut-out of Chrissy Teigen at Cookbooking in Brooklyn. (I’m a big fan of this no-nonsense foodie.) That ignited a desire in me to have large Chrissy faces made on poster boards with wooden handles for photo opportunities during the night. Those props brought the party up another level and the next morning I received endless text messages with lots of emojis after Chrissy liked and commented on the post. The menu was chock full of indulgent dishes: fried chicken with sriracha honey butter, a frito pie bar featuring cheesy guacamole, grilled pineapple BLTs, and of course, a few of Chrissy’s Thai-Mom recipes.

Q

Walk us through a typical cookbook party…

A

I love to have a spread awaiting my guests no matter the occasion. I call this the “nosh before the feast.” My coffee table is covered in small bites and finger foods inspired by the cookbook.

Around 3 PM guests begin to arrive and take advantage of the empty kitchen to get going on their dishes. Drinks are poured and noshing initiates. 4-6 PM is prime cooking time and by 7 PM the main meal is ready for action.

Cookbookers are often prepping and sautéing next to a completely new person they’ve never met before. But they’re cooking a meal together and minutes later, they’re making plans to try a new restaurant or collaborate on a project.

It’s a dinner party, heavy on the party. Drinks are flowing and bottles are emptied. Dinner is served and dessert comes next. At that point, we’ll discuss dates for the next meeting and we’ll pass around some cookbook options. Some guests stay past midnight.

The next day I log onto Instagram and chronicle the whole experience. I try to be as present as possible while Cookbooking in Brooklyn is in session so I make an effort not to be on my phone and to allow my guests to capture the experience from their perspectives. Everyone gladly shares their photos and videos with me so that I can provide a recap of our fun party the next day. As for the dishes… that’s a whole other story.

Q

How do you decide what drinks to serve?

A

Sometimes we’re lucky and the cookbook will offer drink recipes or even beverage suggestions for the meal. Other times, we take inspiration from the book like when two cookbookers developed a Michelada bar featuring Modelo beer for our party featuring Alison Roman’s cookbook, Dining In. My friend, Lauren noticed how Alison styled many of her photos with Modelo so she took that and ran with it. I like to have one cocktail option that we typically make batch style in a pitcher to really get the party going and many guests bring wine or beer to supplement.

Q

What’s next for your Brooklyn cookbook parties?

A

There’s no stopping us now!

Over the years I’ve accumulated some cookbooks on my shelves that haven’t gotten enough love, so I’m slipping in “cookbook swaps” here and there throughout the year. It’s a more casual affair for people who love spending a few hours gathered around a snacky sort of coffee table and looking at cookbooks.

In addition, I’m working up a project that helps others start their own cookbook clubs. I’ve had people reach out to me from Switzerland, Canada, and California— to name a few—telling me that I’ve inspired them to create their own cookbook club community. Those messages always give me the feels. I know first hand how influential this club has been on my life and those involved. Our Saturdays spent together hold a special place in my life. With Cookbooking in Brooklyn, I have extended the definition of family.

Tell Us What You Think

  • Margie says:

    I think it’s a wonderful idea and helps
    make the “big city” homie and cozy. Sam is amazing at whatever she does so I know this is perfection. I wish I lived closer!

  • Carolyn Stine

    A party without cake is just a meeting.

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