Two cookbook clubs start in Sydney

Cookbooks new and old will be cracked open, cooked from and discussed by some of our favourite chefs and thinkers.

If you're the type of person whose bookshelves groan under the weight of Claudia Rodens and both editions of The Cook's Companion, rejoice: not one but two event series in Sydney will bring cookbook devotees together for dinner and conversation.

Focusing on the classics, Christine Manfield and her friend and publisher Julie Gibbs (formerly of Lantern Books) have organised four dinners in August and September to honour seminal authors such as Elizabeth David and Alice Waters. Meanwhile, Barbara Sweeney, the organiser of Food & Words events, and Mike McEnearney of No 1 Bent Street have teamed up to celebrate eight new books coming out between now and Christmas from Matt Wilkinson, Tony Tan and Holly Davis among others.

If the idea sounds like a book club, it kind of is. All four hosts are cookbook collectors and wanted to create a welcoming setting for other bibliophiles to discuss the stories food and recipes can tell.

"Talking about food is always more engaging when you're eating it at the same time," says Sweeney.

Though held in restaurants, each series is more akin to a dinner party. Sweeney and her authors plan to table-hop, giving guests a chance to ask questions directly, while Manfield and Gibbs - both on cooking duties - will craft menus from the many books published by their personal food heroes.

"We want to follow the open, adventurous palate of these writers, Alice in particular," says Manfield.

While the proliferation of cookbooks may have tipped the balance away from quality, writers such as Roden and Madhur Jaffrey - both of whom are on Manfield and Gibbs' program - have influenced contemporary authors in many subtle ways.

"When these authors came along they electrified your life," Sweeney says.

She and McEnearney will profile authors with an unorthodox streak for Book Series by Mike. Sommelier Chris Morrison, author of This is Not a Wine Guide, Ngaire Hobbins, a nutritionist who focuses on food to combat dementia, and Jess Pryles, the Australian chef who has immersed herself in the world of Texan barbecue, will all feature. McEnearney and his latest book, Real Food by Mike, kicked things off on 25 July. The chef will also work on menus with each author for the events.

Most important to each host is bringing the recipes of each book to life and giving them a wider audience.

"It's about celebrating the DNA that's been passed down by writers who have influenced modern food culture today," Manfield says.

If you've ever wanted to start a cookbook club, head along to learn from the best.

Book Series by Mike, 25 July to late December, No 1 Bent Street, 1-7 Bent St, Sydney, NSW; dinner, wine and talk $85, plus copy of book $130. Visit bymike.net to book. Tickets have sold out for the first series of Cooking the Books (22 August to 12 September) with Julie Gibbs and Christine Manfield. A second series is planned for 2018.


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