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This Atlanta cookbook club is part cooking class, part dinner party

Do you read cookbooks like novels, but then never cook a single recipe? A cookbook club might be just for you.

Think of it as a dinner party where the host provides the menu by selecting all the dishes out of one cookbook, does all the shopping, organizes the cooking, sets the table, and marshals the forces for cleanup.

Your responsibility is to show up, be part of a team preparing one of the dishes, and then enjoy the meal with your newly made friends. Oh, and maybe you’ll get to chat with the author of the book you’re cooking from.

If that sounds like an evening you’d enjoy, you might want to join the Learning Kitchen’s Third Thursday Cookbook Club.

It’s the brainchild of Beth Lord, who recently took over the Learning Kitchen, tucked in the middle of the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. Part cooking class, part dinner party, she thought it would be a fun way to begin working through her cookbook stash.

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The main course for January’s Third Thursday Cookbook Club was meatloaf with tomato-habanero sauce. The cooks doubled the recipe to have enough for everyone. CONTRIBUTED BY SUSAN PUCKETT (For the AJC)

“Since I first learned how to cook, I have collected cookbooks,” she said. “I read through them over and over, as if I am actually going to go buy the ingredients and muster up the confidence to give it a try. Well, I’m changing that — hence, the cookbook club. Each month, I am taking a cookbook off my shelf and selecting a meal that we will construct together. As a group, we will prepare three dishes and a dessert, enjoy some wine, and then sit down to share our meal.”

For January’s inaugural club “meeting,” Lord chose recipes from “Turnip Greens & Tortillas” by Eddie Hernandez and Susan Puckett. The menu was meatloaf with tomato-habanero sauce, turnip greens, ancho mashed potatoes and natilla.

A bonus was that Puckett was standing by to answer questions and provide guidance.

“Is this how the potatoes are supposed to look?”

“Is there enough salt in the turnip greens?”

“Yes, that’s exactly how the natilla is supposed to taste.”

It’s not exactly a club (no membership requirements). The dues are the class fee, $35 per session, and you can sign up for one session, attend a few or sign up every month. So far, Lord has the schedule planned through April.

Cooks at the Third Thursday Cookbook Club worked at four prep stations around the big island as they prepared meatloaf, turnip greens, mashed potatoes and natilla. CONTRIBUTED BY SUSAN PUCKETT (For the AJC)

Who came to the inaugural cookbook club? Shirley Brown was there. She’s attended so many cooking classes, she probably qualifies as a professional. “I love cooking classes, and have taken them all over Atlanta, including classes given at the Buford Highway Farmers Market and the Chapman Family Cancer Wellness program at Piedmont Healthcare,” she said. She arrived early, and helped with the prep, preparing guacamole and salsa from the Hernandez-Puckett book and noting that, while the guacamole wasn’t like hers, using fresh lemon instead of lime juice, she really liked it.

Debbie Allen was there, looking to spend an evening with like-minded cooks interested in a cooking and dining adventure. Allen had eaten at Taqueria del Sol, Hernandez’s restaurant, but wasn’t familiar with the cookbook.

Alex Trachtenberg bought the class as a birthday gift for his dad, Joe. “Dad’s a great home cook, and this is fun for us to do together,” he said. Trachtenberg didn’t mind that he didn’t know the menu when he signed up for the class: “I like the surprise.” Joe was the only class member familiar with the book, as he had downloaded an electronic copy.

Salsa and guacamole from “Turnip Greens & Tortillas” by Eddie Hernandez and Susan Puckett were available as fuel for the cooks. CONTRIBUTED BY SUSAN PUCKETT (For the AJC)

Chris Stovall had purchased the evening as a Christmas gift for his wife, Kelly. “We like to cook together, so this is a natural,” Chris said as they chopped onion, celery and jalapenos for the meatloaf. “We’re native Southerners, but we spent 10 years in Phoenix, and learned to love Mexican food. This seemed like a great combination of two cuisines we love.”

As each group worked on their assigned recipe, Lord and her partner, Gerlinda Grimes, circulated through the room, moving from station to station, answering questions, tidying up, pulling out equipment and keeping people moving through their recipes.

Then, as each group finished its recipe — putting meatloaf in the oven, keeping mashed potatoes warm, stirring the turnip greens, chilling the natilla — they slowly began to gather at a long table. Sipping beer or wine or water, enjoying the salsa and the guacamole, the dinner party atmosphere really settled in. Their work done, they could relax and chat before Lord, Grimes and friend Rama Roy served the meal. Puckett sat in to answer questions about putting together a cookbook and working with Hernandez.

Meal prepared, the participants sat at a long table in the kitchen, sharing stories and dinner. CONTRIBUTED BY BETH LORD (For the AJC)

So, Lord’s cookbook club is for people who enjoy the process of preparing a meal. They have to be willing to relinquish some control, since everyone who gathers has some idea what kind of food they’ll be preparing (because they know the cookbook the meal will be from), but not the exact menu for the evening.

Some will find they’re preparing and tasting dishes they never might have selected on their own. But, like kids who might sample the broccoli because they had a hand in preparing it, they’re likely to find something to like in everything they try. And the cookbooks? They get splattered, and maybe a little dog-eared, as they’re finally put to use.

IF YOU GO

Tickets for the Third Thursday Cookbook Club are $35, and are limited to 12 seats.

Upcoming classes:

Feb. 21: “Basic to Brilliant, Y’all” by Virginia Willis (Ten Speed Press, $35)

March 21: “Thug Kitchen” by Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway (Rodale, $24.95)

April 18: “Everyday Korean” by Kim Sunee and Seung Hee Lee (The Countryman Press, $29.95)

The Learning Kitchen, 209 Edgewood Ave., Atlanta. 770-284-0560. To register: thelearningkitchenatl.com.

Read the 2018 AJC Fall Dining Guide: Dining on Buford Highway 

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