The late famed restaurant critic Craig Claiborne once described cooking as “at once child’s play and adult joy. And cooking done with care is an act of love.” It is that fundamental ingredient that binds 11 local women to a unique club. In the fall of 2018, Bon Appetit magazine called on its readers to start their own cookbook clubs.

Carol Rundle didn’t think the idea was half-baked. She marinated on how to modify the magazine’s instructions, gathered 11 friends, and since 2019, the members have created monthly luncheons, breaking bread together and bonding over their mutual love of food, friendships and life.

“I thought it would be fun, and I figured if it doesn’t turn out, so what,” Rundle said. “The magazine’s approach was to go into a commercial kitchen where everyone cooked together. I knew I couldn’t do that, so we tweaked it, and it has worked out well for us.”

Their format is simple: They have a schedule for the year, each member hosts a month, chooses the theme and menu, and her team of five sous chefs prepare the side dishes, soup or salad, and dessert. The other six members show up to enjoy.

“In the beginning a lot of us would make our dish a few times the week before to make sure it turned out right,” Rundle laughed.

Unlike some clubs where everyone prepares something from one book, this group lets the hostess select one or two from which to choose recipes. “Referencing interesting cookbooks is what is so fun about it,” Rundle added. The group is diverse, some have dietary restrictions and not everyone likes to cook or host.

“But we all have a love of food,” said Lynette Gamez. “I love to cook. This is so fun and brings me joy.”

The menus have been gastronomic delights, stretching their palates with signature cocktails like champagne with cranberry, appetizers like shrimp canapé and flaky mushroom tartlets, stuffed chicken breasts in filo and smoked salmon entrees, and desserts such as lemon and lime tarts.

“The beauty of it is that we have all tried things we never would have tried before,” Gamez added of the curried popcorn she never dreamed of whipping up. “We are only limited by our imagination, and the size of our kitchen and dining room table."

There have also been flops, recipes that never watered anyone’s mouth. “But we have learned so much with everything we do,” Gamez added. The club’s potluck-style, crowd-sourced feasts have had themes that have spanned the globe — Indian, Southeast Asian, Cinco de Mayo, Tommy Bahama for which Gamez prepared a key lime pie martini, champagne with mussels for a Claude Monet table, and a Downton Abby-inspired English High Tea.

“As a hostess it gives the opportunity to become creative with a theme, finding tasty related dishes from beverage to dessert, and planning the table settings, often using serving dishes that are hiding in your China cabinet that you might not otherwise use,” said Cynthia Icardo.

The cookbook club was able to power through the pandemic, forcing the members to get creative.

“We had a zoom gathering, we met outdoors, and one hostess delivered wrapped meals to members,” Rundle recalled.

Gamez emailed the magazine with an update.

“That’s so great to hear. Keep calm, and cook on,” Bon Appetit senior editor Sasha Levine replied.

Rundle plans to compile a book featuring all the club’s recipes since its inception. More than just the menus and food, the themes and costumes, and ambiance, these women are forging lasting friendships around the table.

If the pandemic taught us anything, it is the importance of filling our lives with activities and associations that enrich us. These women hope that just as Bon Appetit inspired them, you too will be motivated to do the same. So what are you waiting for? Start your cookbook club. Your friends and your appetite will thank you. Bon Appetit!

Lisa Kimble is an Emmy Award-winning former broadcast journalist who began her career in radio. The opinions expressed here are her own.