When encore launched its foodie mag, Devour, in June, the anticipation of its reaction remained great. We knew there would be a lot of happy culinarians in our city who adore our scene and its vast, evolving epicurean offerings. From numerous festivals, to chef competitions, to cooking classes, wine tastings and food tours, to the culinary arts program at Cape Fear Community College, and of course the obvious amount of restaurants operating, Devour landed at just the right time.
While the print version of the magazine only comes out in June and January, the online edition gets updated every three months, along with weekly stories generating at www.devourilm.com . The next slated edition will be live the second week of September, while the winter print edition will hit the streets in the New Year (with hopeful resolutions to make the print version quarterly in 2014—be on the lookout for a Kickstarter soon). To make the success of this magazine even more imminent, Gwenyfar Rohler at Old Books on Front Street approached us right before the first launch to inquire about a food-centered book club.
Our response? De-li-cious!
Rohler held the first meeting on July 30th and reported back success. In fact, she said 16 to 18 people, ages 15 to 70, equal parts men and women, showed up for a thoughtful discussion about “How the Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage,” a collection of essays revolving around food. (“Cassoulet” was reviewed for Devour’s inaugural edition, too, so be sure to read it online.)
“For a first meeting of a book club, this is about three times what first meetings normally generate,” Rohler says. “But there are so many variables that go into making things like this work—not the least of which is the weather!”
Sharing the common denominator of food manages to connect people on various levels regardless. According to Rohler, people’s personal experiences and memories guided the interest level highly. “‘Cassoulet’ is about family traditions and food,” she says. “Everyone—a nice blend of newcomers and people who have lived here for generations—got to talk. Also everyone was valued—that’s important.”
Rohler picked the book of essays because she felt it would appeal to a variety of people regardless of background. Her thoughtful planning worked. “One person shared about being pressured to eat more because she was too thin,” Rohler recalls, “another was told not to eat so much because she was too heavy. Stories were told about the different ways people in the same family remember meals, and recipes were shared. One woman shared her first encounter of living with a Kosher kitchen. The pieces about parenting and food really hit home for a lot of people, and that was good common ground for discussion.”
In addition to exchanging stories and ideas, the crowd sampled a recipe from “Cassoulet” called “Crazy Cake.” Prepared by book-club leader and Old Books’ staff member Susan E. Harris, plans to have one item to taste at each book club is in the works. “Everyone loved it,” Rohler says of the cake. “The coffee in it kept me up all night, but it was very yummy!” Club members are encouraged to bring their own shared dishes to meetings as well, as long as they’re reflective of the book; however, it is not required.
The next read will be “The Last Days of Haute Cuisine” by Patrick Kuh, with the club meeting slated for Tuesday, August 27th. The quintessential foodie read goes through the history and revolution of restaurants in America, where they started and how they evolved.
“The restaurant industry is a major gateway to employment,” Rohler says. “How could we not have a book that addressed this side of the food question? Rather than trying to look at it in totality, Kuh looks specifically at French restaurants, taking an unwieldy topic and making it specific enough to answer.”
Rohler carefully selected a full range of books to keep interest piqued and go beyond the norm of popular reads. Folks will not find Anthony Bourdain’s scoffing or predictable Food Network recipe books. “I wanted books that would really look at food and food-writing from across the spectrum,” she concurs. Folks will be able to read activist and journalist Michael Pollan’s “Cooked” (June 2014), alongside M.F.K. Fisher’s “How to Cook a Wolf” (November) and Julia Child’s memoir, “My Life in France” (February 2014). Diane Mott Davidson’s “Catering to Nobody” is the only food mystery to be read (April 2014).
“‘Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop’ [by Euell Gibbons] (March 2014) is part memoir, part field guide to foraging for food at the seashore, which I thought was an important aspect of the locavore world,” Rohler states. “We need to talk not just about cooking and eating but also where our food comes from.”
Foodies will find only one straight-forward cookbook on the agenda: “Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome” by Apicius (October). It really illustrates how much cooking has changed,” Rohler notes. “Not wanting the list to be too ethno-centric, it was important to include discussions of food from other cultures. So, ‘The Fortune Cookie Chronicles’ [by Jennifer 8. Lee] (May 2014) is a hilarious and informative trip through the strange relationship between Americans and Chinese food.”
She even secured a local on her list with Devour contributor and author Joel Finsel. Finsel’s collection of short stories, “Cocktails and Conversations From the Astral Plane,” will be read next month. Finsel’s colorful writing blends humorous voyeurism with intriguing cocktail recipes, all told from a bartender’s perspective. Rohler has a few tasty imbibes up her sleeve for this meeting.
Anyone can join the Devour Book Club; meetings are held the last Tuesday of every month. Folks who have yet to read “The Last Days of Haute Cuisine” can still drop in and mingle at the August 27th event. “Have a bite to eat or a drink, mix and mingle, and pick up next month’s book,” Rohler suggests. Discounts are offered on all books bought from the Devour Book Club list.
Devour Book Club
August 27th, 6:30 p.m. • Free
“The Last Days of Haute Cuisine,” by Patrick Kuh
Old Books on Front Street
249 N. Front Street