Laurie Woodward is flying from her home in Pittsburgh in April across the country to Mukilteo, Wash., to serve as matron of honor to a bride she’s never met. And it’s all because of baking.
“She’s one of my best friends,” says Woodward of the bride, Peabody Rudd.
Although the two have never met in person, they’ve baked together online via a blog called Tuesdays With Dorie ( http://tuesdayswithdorie.wordpress.com ). Woodward, a stay-at-home mom of three, started the blog in 2008 as she tackled cookbook author Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours” – recipe by recipe. She asked family and friends to join her in baking and blogging, the idea caught on, and people just joined in.
“I’m still sort of shocked. I started it on a whim,” Woodward says.
Cyberfriendships like Woodward and Rudd’s are increasingly common as cooks head to the kitchen with laptops, iPhones and other devices. Cooks are finding themselves tied together as much by mouse clicks as apron strings. Fostered by various social media platforms, Web-based cooking communities have formed, offering friendship along with recipes, giving exposure to various members’ blogs and offering the possibility of cyberexchanges with famed cookbook authors.
These author-focused cooking groups are like the neighborhood cooking clubs of old but on a much broader scale, says David Leite, New York City-based publisher of the online food magazine Leite’s Culinaria. Social media, he says, allows readers, cooks and authors to interact freely with one another to a degree never imagined before.
“It’s a globalization of what has always gone on and it’s becoming a huge phenomenon,” Leite says. “What the Internet and social media have done is retire the gatekeeper. It’s been democratized.”
That democratization is key. For while these groups offer terrific attention – authors say they love it – this type of community is developed at the grass-roots level. Take the two groups devoted to Greenspan, for example.
“They are not driven by Dorie or her publisher,” says Betsy Pollack, a Lexington, Mass.-based blogger and a coordinator for French Fridays With Dorie ( http://frenchfridayswithdorie.com ), a second group formed by Woodward to cook through Greenspan’s “Around My French Table.”
“They came from a community of people who were interested in cooking the recipes she had,” Pollack says. “It is up to an individual to say, ‘I really like this book and I want to share it with other people. Let’s start a group.’ ”
Matthew Lardie, a blogger from Durham, N.C., did just that. A member of Tuesdays With Dorie, he started Wok Wednesdays (http://wokwednesdays.wordpress.com ) because there wasn’t an outlet for folks interested in stir-frying like he was. Now, the rapidly growing group – 432 members at last count – is working through Grace Young’s “Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge.”
What does a cook get out of participating in such a group?
Well, for some members of the Baked Sunday Mornings community ( http://bakedsundaymornings.blogspot.com ), it will be their photographs in the next cookbook from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, co-owners of Baked bakery and cafe in Brooklyn. The group has been working its way through three earlier books from the bakers. So trusted have members become that Lewis and Poliafito asked a number of them to test recipes for the next book. Including their photos is meant to underscore their contributions, says Lewis, who describes many of the group’s members as friends.
“Cook with people for four or five years and they become your coffee klatch,” says Trevor Kensey, an Irvine, Calif.-based blogger and a member of French Fridays. “Food bloggers share a lot of themselves. Over time, you get this long-form narrative of what’s going on in people’s family.”
Kensey says participation in French Fridays means pushing culinary horizons by cooking dishes he normally wouldn’t, honing skills and getting immediate feedback from other members checking his work.
“I’ve learned there is no dish I can’t make,” he says. “I’m not intimidated by anything. If I want to make it, I can. The group has given me a lot more confidence. I’ve learned to trust my gut in making substitutions and recipe tweaks.”
For Rob Baas, a blogger from Alvaton, Ky., the appeal of Wok Wednesdays is watching how members tackle the recipes and trying recipes he would otherwise not do. (“Heck, I ate eggplant for the first time in 25 years because of Wok Wednesdays!” he wrote in an email.) He also likes interacting with Young, who is a frequent presence on the site.
Young says she feels compelled to participate in the group because wok cooking can be intimidating to newcomers, and she wants to help. But she notes approvingly that Wok Wednesday members often jump in and help one another before she can post a comment.
Rubbing cyberelbows with cooking notables is clearly a draw for members in community cooking groups.
“It’s thrilling when Dorie leaves evidence in a comment that she was there,” Kensey says. “People stare at it and are very thrilled by it. I know I am. ... Where else does this really happen where the elite, the star, mixes so well with her fans?”
Greenspan says she enjoys the interaction with group members and does take note of their reaction to recipes, and has responded accordingly.
“I’ve offered more alternatives,” she says. “I’ve made some gluten-free variations when I could. I made raisins more optional than I used to. Who knew there were so many raisin haters out there?”