from The Montclair Times
Cuisine, conversation and caring
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
By MARK S. PORTER
of The Montclair Times
photo caption: Suzy Goodman and Jackie Mrozy (with Owen Boyce, 22 mos.) cook in Alison Bermack’s kitchen (with her son Cory, 21 mos.) their macaroon recipe when they get together for the Cooking with Friends Club, Monday morning, April 2. Staff photo by Adam Anik.
Alison Javens relishes creating meals.
But she loves to cook food with her friends.
“I really feel it’s an incredible way to bond with your friends,” said Bermack. “When you’re alone, the idea of making baby food is unbelievably challenging. When you’re alone, certain things with a family are not possible. The demands, the stresses stop the process.
“But cooking with friends strengthens existing relationships. Your anxieties and fears are set off to the side. There’s something magical about the smells,” effused Bermack, who became visibly revved up whenever she talked about cooking or chatted about friendship.
In October, the Montclair resident combined the two.
She’s created a networking community, the “Cooking with Friends Club.” In six months, she’s been joined by 152 members and has garnered a profile in the March/April 2007 issue of Hallmark Magazine.
Bermack has garnered the support of local merchants such as Spice It Up for the club. She’s created a national Web forum, www.cookingwithfriendsclub.com, gaining interest from people throughout the United States. Bermack is now writing a club-related book with Dana Bowen, a writer who wrote about her and the club in Hallmark Magazine.
Bermack is an impromptu chef, instinctively blending ingredients and seasonings for acclaimed creations such as tomato sauce or chicken tenders. The Cooking with Friends Club, however, is becoming her recipe for friendship. Bermack’s start to any recipe includes a kitchen and a friend.
The key, she observed, is sharing a kitchen with a friend or two, chatting while chopping, conversing amid the casseroles and sharing “cooking with friends moments.”
This past Monday, Alison Bermack and some friends prepared and baked macaroons to enjoy during Passover. Her neighbor, friend, and fellow “community” member, Elisabeth Miller, was with baking buddies who prepared delectable Easter cookies.
There’s a good chance that, thanks to Bermack’s nonstop organizational and marketing skills, some of the culi-nary duos, trios and quartets will gather and exchange their cuisine amid amicable chats.
As Cooking with Friends member Kathe Roberts described it, “You cook it, you bring it, you swap it.”
You also eat it. You freeze it. And you donate it.
During the final weekend of the football season, Cooking with Friends members created Souperbowl Sunday. Scores of club members prepared about 150 quarts of soups and chili that they donated en masse to the Human Needs Food Pantry.
“There was a need and people arose to the occasion. People came out of the woodwork,” said Bermack, who pledged that club members would continue to support local assistance groups.
“All of a sudden, they’re here with oodles and oodles of soup,” said Deanna London, executive director of the Human Needs Food Pantry and a self-professed maven at making meals. “The clients absolutely adored that soup.
“This was such a wonderful thing that I joined the group!”
Today, Thursday, London expects to join some fellow club members in preparing and baking “quickbreads” such as banana bread, pound cake and carrot cake. “You’re together, you’re in a group. It’s a way of meeting and making new friends.”
“Relationships are forming over a common interest in food,” Bermack noted. “I match-mate whenever possible. I develop this compatibility quiz. It’s not meant to be scored. It’s to find out what kind of cook you are. Do you like to chop and dice? Are you a Food Network person? Do you like Rachel Ray?”
While most of the club members are women, some men have joined. Bermack called the club “mainly a girl thing.” The bevies of buddies often gather with babies in their arms or youngsters underfoot. Several professional chefs have joined the community, along with professional bakers and nutritionists.
“There’s a whole set of diverse people, just like Montclair,” noted Bermack.
Bermack dismisses a modern upscale trend of people paying to prepare food in professional kitchens that boast pricey appliances, landing-strip counters and environs of aesthetic sterility. “Ladies, hello, do it in your house and enjoy the process.”
She acknowledged that the Cooking with Friends Club hearkens back to humankind’s primitive era, when the women of tribal villages would gather and prepare meals. Despite the abundance of affluence and accoutrements, a group of Montclair women simmering fish and vegetables in her kitchen didn’t differ too much from Margaret Mead’s anthropological observations of groups of Melanesian women simmering fish and vegetables.
Club member Kathe Roberts even has a threefold focus on sharing food preparation with pals: “Friends, community and the social aspect of it. It’s more fun to cook together with friends. Pretty soon, we’re going to be cooking Mediterranean food, which is something I normally wouldn’t attempt.”
Roberts noted that club members have “put aside a small amount … that gives back to the community.”
The social aspect involves socializing with club members. “A glass of wine, good food, good conversation.”
“When you’re in the kitchen by yourself, it’s not as motivating,” club member Elizabeth Miller said. “You definitely whip out food quicker with friends. It feels good to do that.”
Bermack hopes to bring her program to local schools. As the mother of 9-year-old Zachary, Sofia, 6, and 21-month-old Cory, she intends to start a Junior Cooking with Friends Club.
Her husband, Scott Bermack, is an attorney. The family has resided in Montclair for nearly 10 years, first on Wellesley Road and now on Summit Avenue. “I love Montclair. It’s my community,” she said. “I feel good sharing and trading recipes. I’m still local and I want to be local.”
She’s assembled a scrumptious slew of recipes, along with tips on essential kitchen tools, such as a hand-blender, a garlic press and chopper and a fat separator. She advises club members to “make do with what we have” for recipes.
Referring to one recipe, she said, “I call it a throw-as-you-go vegetable soup. If a friend stops by, I want people to make a big soup without having to go to the store. You’re chitchatting anyway, so why not do something constructive?”
“I want to get across how great it is, cooking with friends.”
There’s a familial irony in Alison Bermack’s marital life. She’s a skilled cook who has created a club that’s becoming a movement. She purveys delectable recipes and concocts scrumptious entrees. Her husband, Scott? “He’s not a cook at all!”
Alison and Scott do not slice carrots together, or finesse garnishes while gabbing. “He’s a supporter,” she said. “He’s my biggest fan.”
“He’s a beneficiary of all the meals!”
Contact Mark S. Porter at email@example.com
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