The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship is a must read. It speaks to loyalty, loss, and the ties that bind. These are the ingredients of The Recipe Club, a “novel cookbook” that combines an authentic story of friendship with more than 80 delicious recipes.
Lilly and Val are lifelong friends, united as much by their differences as by their similarities. Lilly, dramatic and confident, lives in the shadow of her beautiful, wayward mother and craves the attention of her distant, disapproving father. Val, shy and idealistic–and surprisingly ambitious– struggles with her desire to break free from her demanding housebound mother and a father whose dreams never seem to come true.
In childhood, “LillyPad” and “ValPal” form an exclusive two-person club, writing intimate letters in which they share hopes, fears, deepest secrets–and recipes, from Lilly’s “Lovelorn Lasagna” to Valerie’s “Forgiveness Tapenade.”
Readers can cook along as the friends travel through time facing the challenges of independence, the joys and heartbreaks of first love, and the emotional complexities of family relationships, identity, mortality, and goals deferred.
The Recipe Club sustains Lilly and Val’s bond through the decades, regardless of what different paths they take or what misunderstandings threaten to break them apart . . . until the fateful day when an act of kindness becomes an unforgivable betrayal.
Now, years later, while trying to recapture the trust they’ve lost, Lilly and Val reunite once more–only to uncover a shocking secret. Will it destroy their friendship, or bring them ever closer?
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Nancy Garfinkel and Andrea Israel, authors of The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship.
JT: The book’s subtitle, A Tale of Food and Friendship, really encapsulates the appeal of your novel. Why do you think food and friendship strike such a resonant chord with readers around the world?
Nancy/Andrea: Whether it’s positive or negative, everybody has a relationship to food; it transcends any demographic divides, like gender, nationality, religion, age, or race. We eat to survive, to share, to celebrate, to mourn…we eat alone, in family groups, and with friends. And friendship–a form of love–is just as basic a need. It provides emotional sustenance which is essential for a life well-lived.
JT: The book has a little of everything: it’s a novel-cookbook, and the story is told through emails and then letters, and finally a third-person narrative. That must have been a complicated collaboration for two writers. How did you do it?
Nancy/Andrea: Just as the book begins with e-mails, we started out by writing emails to each other in the voice of a specific character. What made it fun was never knowing what the other one would write. So when Andrea’s character emailed something like, “I can’t believe you did that!” to Nancy’s character, Nancy would have to figure out what exactly her character did…and why. And if Nancy’s character wrote back, “Well I did that because you said THAT,” then Andrea would have to come up with a convincing back story. It kept us on our toes, and in an active state of creative imagination. And we both kept trying to challenge ourselves–and each other–by pushing the language and actions of each character. At a certain point they took on a life of their own–and we didn’t always approve of their behavior! We ended up tossing out a large portion of the first draft, and writing the next draft together, side-by-side. Our ability to write together like that is very unusual, and it remains something of a beautiful mystery to us.
As for it being both a novel and a cookbook, that just adds an extra measure of fun–and extends the life of the book. Each of our more than 80 terrific recipes closely relates to the story of the novel (with evocative titles like Lovelorn Lasagna and Better-Late-Than-Never Zucchini Bread), so long after you’ve finished the novel you can keep thinking about the characters–and keep on cooking!
JT: Was one of you Lilly, and the other Val?
Nancy/Andrea: In short: no. Both of us are both of them–and neither of them–in equal measure. It is purely a work of fiction. We are flattered by how many people have asked if it’s autobiographical. We’ve heard readers say, “it must be real because it sounds so real.”
JT: We hear the book is sparking a grassroots movement called “Recipe Clubs,” which you describe as “a way of creating community through story-telling circles.” What does that mean, and how does it work?
Nancy/Andrea: Recipe Clubs are being formed by readers who want to share their own true stories of food and friendship. They are taking place across the country. Typically six to eight women gather to exchange food-related memories and the recipes that go along with it. The stories are about anything and everything: food and family, food and joy, food and anger, love, travel, creativity, empowerment…it’s limitless. The common denominator is that they always have an emotional component which resonates with the group.
For example, one woman’s story about smashing a baked Alaska (just as it was about to be served to an undeserving suitor) was really a tale of unrequited love and seizing back personal power. Another woman remembered being a young girl who pretended to be sick at school in order to be taken home by her aunt, knowing full well she would be fed a delicious home-cooked lunch; her story was about craving the comfort and safety of family in stressful times. You can see some of our Recipe Clubs in action on our website: www.therecipeclubbook.com.
While every Recipe Club story is different, all of them share a hunger for connecting to memory, to other people, and to self-understanding. That’s essentially true of our novel, as well. And we’re thrilled that our book has ignited something so positive and life-affirming.
JT: Thanks, Nancy and Andrea! A delicious interview!!
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