Online cooking groups dish up friendships

04/08/2014 3:09 PM

04/08/2014 3:15 PM

Laurie Woodward is flying from her home in Pittsburgh to Mukilteo, Wash., in April 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. 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,” Woodward says. “I started it on a whim.”

Cyberfriendships like Woodward and Rudd’s are increasingly common as cooks head to the kitchen with laptops, iPhones, tablets 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 online exchanges 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-based publisher of 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, 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.

“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, did just that. A member of Tuesdays With Dorie, he started Wok Wednesdays because there wasn’t an outlet for folks interested in stir-frying like he was. Now, the rapidly growing group – more than 430 members at last count – is working through Grace Young’s “Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge.”

Elizabeth Cahill, a Wok Wednesday member who lives in Belmont, N.C., started taking part every week after seeing it mentioned in The Charlotte Observer last year.

“I don’t have as much time to experiment in the kitchen anymore,” she says. “So when I try a new recipe, I need to know it’s going to be successful right out of the gate. There’s a lot of dialogue between members about what works for them.”

She learns about which stoves work best for which woks, and which ingredient swaps work for people.

“It lets you know what works and what doesn’t.”

Author Grace Young, a frequent participant on the Wok Wednesday site, says she feels compelled to participate because wok cooking can be intimidating to newcomers, and she wants to help. But she notes approvingly that members often jump in and help one another before she can post a comment.

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?”

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