"I come from a long line of women who translated their love through food," says New York City wedding photographer Karen Mordechai. "Growing up, my family often cooked together and always sat down to dinner together."
Nostalgic for the big communal meals of her childhood, Mordechai established her own home-cooking tradition last year, inviting friends to the loft she shares with her husband, Ken Rivera, to make and eat a big Sunday dinner.
Eventually, friends of friends began coming, Mordechai started blogging about the feasts, and the casual gathering evolved into an official class, called Sunday Suppers. Now a guest chef comes to the couple's loft, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, each month to teach a small group of people to cook a meal from start to finish.
Participants -- some of them friends, others strangers -- come to hone their culinary techniques but also to enjoy a great meal with fellow food lovers. "The local, artisanal food movement has really taken off here," says Mordechai, who acts as host and participant, stylist and photographer (she took most of the photos on these pages), at each class. "Sunday Suppers is a natural extension of that."
Today, the guest chef is Martha Stewart Living senior food editor Shira Bocar. She and Karen collaborated on the day's theme: rustic Italian, but with a look and feel that's pure Brooklyn. The dishes are made with ingredients from the area's farmers' markets and food purveyors. Mordechai's funky-elegant decorative touches -- a wood-framed chalkboard menu, old-fashioned glass carafes, letterpress recipe cards -- are gathered from neighborhood shops and designers. Even the guest list has a homegrown flair, with people who either live or work, or live and work, in Brooklyn.
Unlike traditional cooking classes, which can be rigorous affairs, Sunday Suppers has a deliberately loose format -- starting, today, with Prosecco aperitifs -- and dishes that are approachable enough to accommodate cooks of all levels. "It's about delicious, simple food that can be prepared with friends," Bocar says. Her seasonally driven menu -- meatballs with fresh tomato sauce, herbed flatbread, and liqueur-soaked fruit -- has enough surprises to inspire experienced cooks, without intimidating novices.
"It's nice to have a place to meet people who share your passions," says Camille Becerra, a chef-restaurateur and former Top Chef contestant who taught a prior Sunday Suppers session. It's the foodie equivalent of a knitting circle.
Most Sunday Suppers end with a seated dinner, but this evening everyone noshes while sitting on sofas in the living room, plates on laps, or standing by the floor-to-ceiling windows watching the sun set against the Manhattan skyline. As iced martinis are stirred, guests compliment one another's dishes and trade good-natured barbs about their imperfectly formed flatbreads. "By the end of every night, everyone's friends and trading phone numbers," Mordechai says. "We haven't had any couples come out of a class, but it's probably only a matter of time."
Laura O'Neill & Ben Van Leeuwen
Cofounders of Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, which they sell at their Brooklyn shop and in roving trucks around the city. Track their routes (and daily flavors) at twitter.com/vlaic.
Joanna Goddard & Alex Williams
She's a freelance writer with a penchant for design, which she indulges daily on her blog, Cup of Jo, at joannagoddard.blogspot.com; he's a reporter for the New York Times.