Chef Jennifer Knapp completed her formal training at Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco and, after working in restaurants such as Hawthorne Lane and The Meetinghouse, started a personal chef and catering business. She’s also a popular cooking teacher who teaches throughout the Bay Area.
I’m one of those people who collect cookbooks. Hundreds of them line my bookshelves, ranging from a dog-eared copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking that I inherited–along with my love of food and cooking–from my grandfather to newer hits like L.A.-based Suzanne Goin’s “The A.O.C. Cookbook.”
As a caterer, personal chef and cooking teacher, I collect cookbooks for inspiration and to keep up on the latest trends in the food world, but I also read them for pleasure. Last year, however, I was lamenting the fact that it’s impossible to try even a fraction of the recipes in all of the books I own because I’m always moving on to the next one.
And that’s how the Cookbook Club came about.
Here’s the jist: Each month, I rally my circle of food industry friends—who are as compulsive as I am about buying cookbooks—and we pick one to explore (recently, we’ve worked our way through David Tanis’ A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem: A Cookbook). Then the emails start flying. To keep things balanced, each person picks one dish to prepare (we make everything from apps and veggies to main courses and desserts). We take turns hosting the club and everyone brings a bottle of wine.
Most of the prep is completed ahead of time, which leaves plenty of time for socializing, drinking, and sampling the six to eight different recipes we’ve prepared. For many of us, it’s a chance to experiment with new techniques and ingredients. Last month, for example, I made the braised octopus salad from Tanis’s book; the month before, it was Naomi Duguid’s crispy fried “tofu” fritters from Burma: Rivers of Flavor, made from chickpea flour and served with two flavorful types of Southeast Asian dipping sauces which I’ve since added onto my catering menu. The best part: With such an experienced group of cooks, we haven’t had a disappointing dish yet. And, for those of us who feed others for a living, it’s a chance to sit down for a proper dinner without laboring over the stove for hours, and to take a deep dive into some of the many cookbooks we own.
The only challenge? Picking the next cookbook, of course. Next month, we’re planning to pay homage to the recent passing of Judy Rogers–a Bay Area culinary icon–by preparing her famous Zuni chicken and bread salad and other favorite dishes from The Zuni Café Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant.