Whitehall club whips up enthusiasm for cookbooks
Pittsburgh cooking legend Chris Fennimore was delighted as he walked into the Whitehall Community room earlier this fall.
The main table was lined with harvest soup, mushroom Marsala, spinach pie, milk and honey bread and coconut flan — all recipes from his latest cookbook, “Simple Pleasures,” which he co-authored with Daniel Aguera.
“It was like looking in the mirror. It was all these things that I normally make myself,” said Fennimore, creator and host of QED Cooks since the 1990s.
Fennimore was the latest celebrity guest to visit Whitehall Public Library’s Cookbook Club. The 18-member club meets once a month, and the small group has done big things, including appearing on an episode of the “Rachael Ray Show” in February.
After appearing on the show, cookbook club members wanted to “top themselves,” said Brandon Taper, the library’s adult services coordinator. Bringing in a local cooking guru such as Fennimore was a surefire way to do it.
“He’s been such a fixture of Pittsburgh,” said Taper. “I knew they’d want to have him here.”
Since their TV appearance, the club has gotten some new members. Such growth could continue, as members are quick to say Ray pinky swore she would come visit them one day.
Cheryl Priano, who has been a member of the club since its 2010 founding, coordinates the monthly cookbook and always tries to find something different. Each member reads the book and makes a recipe they then bring to the monthly meetup.
It’s a nice way to try a variety of recipes at one time, members say. They also rate the books.
“Most of us love food and love cooking,” said Betty Steele, of Baldwin Borough, a member of the club for eight years. “And we do have an awful lot of fun.”
Fennimore’s visit was a little different, as members don’t normally have the author present to try their dishes.
“I was nervous at first, but when he came in, it made me feel very much at ease,” Priano said.
For Fennimore, the event was a validation, of sorts. He’s made 100s of cookbooks, always using recipes submitted by others. His latest features personal recipes and stories.
He said club members recreated his dishes perfectly.
“It was so spot on, I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I was like, ‘Phew, this works!’”
Fennimore enjoyed his time with the club so much, he returned to Whitehall in mid-November to speak to more than 100 people about his book.
“The other thing I realized was that I wanted to move to the South Hills and join their book club,” he said with a hearty laugh.
For more, see whitehallpubliclibrary.org/cookbook-club/
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.