The New Food Writing: Recipe Club, Jam Today, Foodie Handbook

The great challenge in bookselling when talking about cookbooks and food writing is the question of celebrity. If your author/chef/foodie is already a celebrity, then selling the book is not a problem, right? The mere fact of their public awareness, and the existence of their platform, takes away so much of the challenge of convincing customers to buy their books.

But if you're looking for new writers or up-and-coming foodies, then finding the awesome new voice is only the beginning. You still have to convince your customers to give them a shot - before the new writer has properly earned the customer's trust. In fact, that word "platform" comes up a lot when publishers talk about their new authors - it's a handy shortcut for thinking about how hard or easy it's going to be to launch a new voice.

If they already HAVE a platform, well then, we're on our way. But there are platforms and there are platforms. Food TV? Major platform. In that case, the question really becomes, what took them so long to do a book? Shared a PBS food series with Mario Batali and Mark Bittman? Even if you're better known as an actress? Get out there and launch that lifestyle web site and write the book!

But what if we're talking about a longstanding food blogger? Or a publisher/screenwriter/wife of a film director? Or a pair of friends in Brooklyn - one working as a producer/writer for network news and one already a food writer? These are all people with platforms, but getting the word out about their respective books to a broader audience than they already reach is going to be the big challenge. And their paths are going to be - by necessity - unconventional.

Speaking of unconventional and food writers, MFK Fisher seems to be the guiding spirit here, presiding over the goings-on tonight. I've come across quotes from her in materials for the first two books already, and I have a suspicion that I'll turn up something as I work on the third book. I'll end each writeup with the discovered MFK Fisher quote to give you an idea of how each book relates to the world of Food Writing.

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The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food And Friendship
by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel
Polhemus Press (Consortium) | 9780982349205 | $19.95 | Oct 2009

Two women grow up best friends, sharing a love for cooking. As children, they form a Recipe Club, making sure to enclose a new recipe for each other in every letter. No matter what paths their lives take, across a span of 40 years, they stay in touch via letters & clippings, and eventually email & attachments. The format of the book that tells their story is a beautifully designed paperback, with color throughout, incorporating the recipes and other illustrations in a graceful way - avoiding the overdone "Griffin & Sabine" method of faux envelopes. In the telling, this story becomes a novel that shares the love of cooking and 80 recipes with its readers.

Two other women meet cute in Brooklyn, end up living near one another in that neighborhood and become fast friends. Though their careers have different trajectories, they share a love for cooking and food writing. One day they form a publishing company to spread the word about their sophisticated & heartfelt novel with recipes.

I'll be interested to see what the media make of this book and its authors - co-author Andrea Israel is still a producer and writer at ABC News, with the potential access that would seem to imply. Also, the book is (as I already mentioned) a beautifully designed artifact. It's easy to imagine the book being featured in the front sections of lots of high profile magazines this fall. Nevertheless, booksellers should love it.

Click here to download a PDF of the blad for the book - sample pages with some of the writing and some recipes.

MFK Fisher quoted (in a blurb by Sara Moulton): "an absorbing novel that reflects the wisdom of MFK Fisher, namely, that there is no separating food and dining from family and friends."

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Jam Today: A Diary of Cooking With What You've Got
by Tod Davies
Exterminating Angel Press (Consortium) | 9781935259046 | $15.95 | Sept 2009

Imagine a small bookshelf, filled with those lovely Victorian era gardening and cooking books that the Modern Library began reprinting about ten years ago. Each one is a perfect examplar of the authorial voice, combining an easy expertise in the subject matter at hand with a certain confidence in sharing all the finicky details that make the stories come alive. I'm thinking of The Gardener's Bed-Book and High Bonnet.

That's what reading Tod Davies' book is like. Jam Today is a chatty, idiosyncratic book, filled with short pieces reviewing some of her favorite meals, and how they were prepared. The overarching principle here is an homage to the Slow Food / Shop Local movements, but with a strong dose of "whaddya got" Chef Think. She likes to work from the food that's already in the pantry and the fridge and see where those starting points lead.

There are chapters on Dining Alone (see the MFK quote below), Food for Friends, Cooking for Vegetarian Loved Ones, Food for the Seasons, Fish, Turnips & Squash, Potatoes, Eggs & Mushrooms, Salads and more.

The writing is welcoming & warm, inviting the reader along on a journey through meal after meal. Before long, the reader's stomach is starting to growl and the brain is beginning to think about what lies waiting in the pantry.

Tod is the author mentioned above who is, in addition to being the publisher of Exterminating Angel Press, also a screenwriter/producer and married to the director Alex Cox. He is frequently mentioned in the book as Beloved Vegetarian Husband. She can be found holding forth at Exterminating Angel's site and on Twitter.

MFK Fisher quoted (in the text of Chapter One - Eating Alone): "While, as MFK Fisher rightly observes, there are few greater pleasures than dining with One, dining alone has its own satisfactions...its own silences and triumphs and downright wallowings in the first person."

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The Foodie Handbook: The (Almost) Definitive Guide to Gastronomy
by Pim Techamuanvivit
Chronicle Books | 9780811868532 | $24.95 | Oct 2009

It takes a lot of confidence to call your book an (almost) definitive guide to gastronomy. When you look around the big universe of food writing, when you look back to Brillat-Savarin and everyone who has come along since then, when you think about all the talking heads on Food TV, and add in all the food bloggers who are working today, it would be hard to get it all between two covers, right?

So we must accept that Pim (I'm just going to let her implausibly challenging last name rest up there in the biblio info) and our friends at Chronicle Books are winking a bit in the subtitle. We move on.

Pim is indeed a well-regarded food blogger, an accomplished cook, a well-traveled gastronome. She has been writing at Chez Pim since late 2000! Her recipes, writings and photos have been published in the NY Times, Bon Appetit, and Food & Wine magazine.

What her book brings us is a look at the global food culture - based on her own travels, and her interactions with readers around the world over these past 8 years. It includes tips on making the most of street food and gourmet restaurants when traveling, recipes, and interviews and advice from some of the world's greatest chefs.

There are lots of her great photographs, a fresh, chunky design that helps you understand just how much knowledge you're currently holding, and a lot of smart, opinionated writing. This is going to be a fun book to keep out on the table and share with like-minded visitors.

You can find Pim online at Chez Pim, and on Twitter.

MFK Fisher quoted: Not directly in the materials I could find, but Pim does namecheck her in a post on her blog as one of two authors who taught her much about food writing (the other? Jeffrey Steingarten).


A NEW DISCLAIMER: Some or all of these books are published by publishers I represent. I don't necessarily love every book that every one of my publishers publish, but if they're featured on my3books, know this: I love these books. And I think you should buy them.