What started as a "seed of an idea" for a group of food-loving women in Sydney, has since evolved into a dynasty of cookbooks favoured by the likes of Hollywood actress Nicole Kidman and celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi.
Here, we catch up with the Monday Morning Cooking Club and discover why they've rarely missed a meeting in the past decade.
Tell me a little bit about how the Monday Morning Cooking Club began?
MMCC: "We wanted to tell the story – and stories – of our food-obsessed Jewish community. We wanted to collect, test, curate and share the best recipes from the best cooks we could find. We wanted to preserve recipes from the older generation for us, and from our generation for the future. And we wanted to raise some money for charity along the way.
So, we started meeting every Monday morning and here we are. One unique sisterhood, three gorgeous books, five passionate girls, 11 brilliant years, 28 countries, 206 stories and 348 recipes now shared."
It’s widely known that you’re a not-for-profit community of food-lovers – how important is the charity aspect of what you’re doing?
"The charity aspect of what we are doing is the icing on the cake. We are so proud that over the last ten years we have donated, as well as enabled charities to raise much needed funds. Our reason for being is always to collect and preserve our community’s recipes and stories but we really love giving back – not just to our community but to the wider community as well."
Cultural identity and food, for many people, go hand-in-hand. How significant is your identity as Jewish women living in Sydney, when it comes to your cookbook and the recipes you showcase?
"As the title of our book says, for us, “It’s Always About The Food!". The Jewish people have an unusually strong – somewhat obsessive – connection with food. Every festival, celebration and time of sorrow, is marked with the creation and consumption of special dishes and food. If someone is ill, chicken soup is promptly made and delivered. If someone passes away, no flowers are sent – eggs are boiled and bagels are baked. If a baby is born, entire meals are prepared for entire families.
"For each of us, this is how we live, joining together with family and friends over tables laden with food, whether it’s for our weekly Friday night dinners, general family celebrations or religious festivals. We all enjoy making those traditional Jewish dishes that our community is known for, things like chicken soup and matzo balls for Passover, hamantashen (three cornered sweet pastries) for Purim and an array of cheesecakes for Shavuot. We love sharing these treasured recipes (alongside the many contemporary ones) with the world. It really is always about the food!"
You talk about collating ‘precious family recipes’, did a lot of these come from your mothers?
"In all of our books, we have shared treasured recipes from our mothers, aunts and grandmothers. These family recipes and traditions will now be preserved for the future, sometimes securing precious memories of family members long gone, making sure that traditions created can be documented or creating legacies (in both the recipes and stories) for the future.
We love to think we also inspire our readers to start documenting their own families’ recipes so they too can preserve their own recipes, stories and traditions."
Be honest – have any of you skipped a Monday morning meeting in the past 10 years, and if so – did you have a good excuse?
"Ha! With five of us in the group, there is enough momentum to always have each other’s back! We all love working together, even after ten years, and Monday is definitely our favourite day of the week. But stuff happens and we try really hard to be flexible and kind with each other. We treasure and respect this unique and wonderful sisterhood we have created.
Working women often struggle to maintain that work-life balance, a balance you as a little community, appear to have found. What advice would you offer women who are trying to secure a healthy network of friends while maintaining a career?
"Appearances can sometimes be deceiving – we are constantly struggling to find work-life and family balance. We all feel like we’re chasing our tails at one time or another. Our advice? Accept that chaos happens and the to-do list is never-ending. You should see how messy some of our desks are! It helps when you love what you do and are always open to the lessons that mistakes teach you. And of course, laugh as much as possible along the way.
What advice would you offer a network of women who aspire to follow in your footsteps?
"Build a community of friends and family who nurture and support – and remember to nurture and support them back. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day – the Monday Morning Cooking Club was not an instant or overnight success. It has been eleven years of commitment, hard work and persistence, with both challenges and successes, to get to where we are today. We recognise, and are forever grateful to, the many people who have helped us throughout our journey, including all the wonderful cooks who shared their recipes and life stories with us. We're grateful for each and every person who buys one of our books to bring into their homes – and hopefully their hearts."
Finally, what's the best advice you've ever received from your mothers?
Merelyn: "My mum always used to say "Only listen to the good stories”, i.e, don’t absorb other people’s negativity."
Lisa: "My mum’s best saying for me, when I am sometimes too impatient for things to happen, change or succeed, is 'How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!'"
Natanya: "Definitely my mum’s best advice... "Live a little, have another piece of cake."'
To learn more about Monday Morning Cooking Club, see their website here.
The unstoppable Monday Morning Cooking Club sisterhood returns with a stunning third book containing heirloom recipes and new classics from across the globe. Published by Harper Collins. RRP $55.99.
"For each of us, this is how we live, joining together with family and friends over tables laden with food."