Food Job: Chefs Write On

Something profound is happening.  The kids who went to cooking school have grown up to become high priest moralists. In their search for truth they are peering into the very nature of things and the Zen of the universe of peas and beans and carrots. In their giddy search for acclaim they are tossing aside their former kitchen gods.  They scoff at Escoffier and yearn to become M.F.K. Fishers among men.

For a precious few, the ego is satisfied by printing for perpetuity the memory of gorgeousness and glamor of their food that formerly, once swallowed, was pretty much lost and gone forever — save for a few scraps that were unceremoniously dispatched by the dish washing brigade.

Me Too

The curious thing about all this is that a whole lot of people have the quaint idea they could easily write a cookbook if only they had the time. They don’t fundamentally understand there is a craft as well as an art to it and as many sadly disillusioned authors have discovered, if you really want a cookbook, it takes far less effort to go out and buy one, rather than to make one yourself.  Cheaper too!

Buying Into the Myth

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, the myth persists that all cookbooks SELL.  The awful truth is few authors earn back their advances and rumors abound that the sale of 7,500 copies is considered to be an industry average.

If you are considering writing a plain and simple cookbook or a kitchen manifesto it is important to acknowledge that a book’s sales will have little to do with the intrinsic merit of the work.  Of far greater significance is the graphic design and the media hype.  So while a terrible book cannot become an award-winner, with skillful promotion it can certainly become a big seller.

The Survivors

If we made a list of the books that have survived for more than a year, let alone five or ten years, there would be only a handful.  Heading the hit parade would be Mastering The Art of French Cooking. It has had multimillion copy sales but there were forces other than good recipes and good writing that made it into such a success.

The work was accurate, dependable and the directions were easy to follow. These are all matters of critical importance, but, vital as they are, they are not enough to guarantee success.  We must look at other factors.  Julia Child was nurtured by television and people loved her.  They still do. They identified with her. Even so she would be fortunate to find a publisher today.  This is because fewer buyers are interested in French cooking.  For the same reason, people have stopped going to French restaurants: they don’t serve Italian food.

Eating In While Eating Out

The shocking truth is that we are becoming a nation that is cooking illiterate so who needs a cookbook?  When Mom calls the children to come home for dinner, they run neither to the kitchen nor to the dining room.  Instead they go to the garage.  They think they will be going out to eat. If Mom is asked if she is cooking dinner tonight she is likely to retort, “Fat chance” or “Slim chance” which curiously enough has come to mean the same thing.