By Diane Y. Welch
When guests attend a dinner party at the home of Gary and Karin Eastham there is something else planned beside eating the food. On arrival, each guest dons an apron and plays a vital part in preparing the dinner. But with Karin Eastham’s well-honed organizational talents, the dinner turns into a fun event where new culinary skills are learned and new relationships are formed.
Now Karin Eastham has gathered this experience into a book and on Nov. 5 the clubhouse in Fairbanks Ranch was packed with people gathered to celebrate the launch of “Cook the Part” [Crosswalk Press, Nov 2011].
Present were those who contributed to the book: Traci O’Very Covey, the artist who created the book’s lavish illustrations, and Cari Lightfoot Pike, who provided the photography, along with Rhonda Rhyne and Bryna Kranzler, who teamed up with Eastham to form Crosswalk Press.
“This was my way to say, ‘Thank you!’” Eastham said.
More than a collection of recipes, the book contains individual chapters for themed menus. Each chapter has a detailed guide for four teams, usually made up of two or three people. Easy-to-follow instructions provide all the necessary steps, from ingredient gathering, to preparation, to table presentation. Included is a master plan for the host that shows what each team does at a specific time, and also covers the pre-planning of the dinner, including shopping for fresh ingredients and creating guest invitations. The end result is a “fabulous four-course meal,” Eastham said.
Tuscan Farmhouse Dinner, Comfort Food, and A Taste of Baja, are just three of eight featured menus.
“This is an entertaining revolution that allows everyone, even the inexperienced cook, to host dinner parties that will leave guests wanting more,” said Eastham, who has been entertaining and cooking with her husband for 42 years. Gary’s famous “rub” is a key ingredient in several of the dishes.
The idea to create hands-on dinner parties was born out of family tradition. Each year the Easthams hosted a week-long Thanksgiving feast with guests assigned to culinary tasks that culminated in the final Thanksgiving dinner.
“It was a lot of work to keep track of what everybody should do. So I started making spreadsheets. People knew exactly what they should chop and when, and which specific ingredients to use in a dish,” explained Eastham, a CPA and former chief operating officer at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research who still serves on four biotech company boards.
The Easthams delved into organized team cooking when they volunteered their kitchen for a Pasta Fest with six couples creating a variety of pastas and sauces. Eastham drew up separate assignments, then gave each couple their written instructions. “Everyone really appreciated their ‘cheat sheets’,” she recalled. This was the beginning of the concept for her cook book.
Over the years, many co-workers, friends and family have taken part in the Eastham’s dinner parties. When two CEOs cooked together they quickly became competitive, in a light-hearted way. Annette Bradbury recalled how her husband, Dan Bradbury of Amylin Pharmaceuticals, competed with Steve Altman of Qualcomm.
“They each wanted their dough to get shinier, faster,” she said.
The Easthams divide couples, pairing a husband with another’s wife on a separate team. “That way they get to know each other, and it’s a lot more fun,” Eastham said.
A passion for food is rooted in Karin Eastham’s heritage. Born in Germany and moving to the United States in 1956, she learned to cook as a child.
“My mother, Mutti, lived in the kitchen and frequently summoned my help,” she explained.
When unexpected visitors arrived they, too, were put to work in Mutti’s kitchen.
“Her guests always came back for more – the food and the work – because they enjoyed learning, creating and indulging,” said Eastham.
This link to family tradition has been passed on to the Easthams’ two adult children who host their own team-cooking parties. And Eastham’s former party guests, who range from chemists to CEOs, to high-powered business people, and everything in between, boast of a new-found confidence and a joy of cooking.
Jennifer Cayer hosted the Comfort Food-themed dinner. At first she was anxious about having some of the executives she works with cooking in her kitchen.
“But having a team build the meal took all the pressure off me,” said Cayer, who followed Eastham’s model precisely. “It was one of the best dinner parties I ever hosted,” she said. “There was lots of laughter.”
In conjunction with the book is an interactive blog and website. Visitors to the blog are encouraged to comment on their experiences, share recipes, and post photographs. In the works are future chapters with dinners centered on special occasions, the latest being an Oktoberfest-themed dinner. The book, which retails at $24.95, is available from the website and comes with a complimentary pdf copy. Visit
to purchase a signed first edition.