I am cookbook obsessed.
I have a bookcase full of them. My Barnes & Noble wish list is loaded with them. Through the years I have tried to pare them down, getting rid of the ones I never used or didn’t like, donating them to friends and libraries and shelters, yet I still have dozens and I still want more!
Apparently I am not the only one. In the bookselling world – you know actual books, you can touch and feel and bend and that, yes, require the sacrifice of a tree – book sales are down, but COOKbook sales are up!
Makes some sense when you consider the success of reality TV shows like Top Chef (my fave) on Bravo TV and the popularity of Food Network and Cooking Channel. Chefs are household names now so it does seem natural that when a celebrity chef writes a book the masses will buy it. Even food bloggers have turned cookbook writers with great success, think most recently Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen fame.
I do find it a bit interesting though since all you have to do in this day and age is google any recipe or even ingredient and you instantly have dozens of recipe variations to choose from.
But consider that cookbooks are way more than recipe books now.
No longer are they just lists of ingredients followed by instructions and if you are lucky a photo of the completed dish.
Photos fill nearly every page and in some books you get to see all the various stages of the making of a dish, not just the finished product. The photos are no longer bound into one or two sections in the middle of the book with maybe a couple dozen recipes represented and a note referring you from the recipe to the photo section of the book to see if what you made looks like what they made.
Modern cookbooks are worthy of the coffee table.
Recipes are no longer just recipes. They have a story, a history, a connection to the chef who created it. They read like wonderful biographies or mini novels.
I love food, so I have always loved reading about food. But I never imagined I would take a cookbook with me to bed at night to read like it is the latest book from Gillian Flynn.
But a couple of years ago when I got New York Times’ writer Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite that is just what I found myself doing, completely engaged in her stories about the food and how they affected her life and ultimately how to cook them.
Even technique driven books like Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty are a great read, of course that is a tribute to Ruhlman’s talent as a writer. Ruhlman again gets a lot of credit for my other favorite cookbooks – all of Thomas Keller’s books, which he helped write. These are gorgeous, lush books full of recipes with exquisitely detailed – often daunting instructions – that you doubt you will ever try, but they are oh-so-fun to read about and drool over.
Then one day you decide to take the plunge, wipe the drool off the page and try one out, and low and behold, you followed the instructions and it worked beautifully. All it took was some time and patience and you probably learned a new trick or two along the way!
I do love Keller’s books and Keller’s food and ideas about food, he is a master. I’m not going to say his are the first books I reach for to find a recipe, but they are often the ones where I find the most inspiration.
I have stared at my bookcase at times and had the idea to take a page – pun intended – out of Julie Powell’s book Julie & Julia and cook my way page-for-page through one of the books, as she did with Julia Child’s, and see what the journey is like. We’ll see.
For now I’m just going to enjoy adding to the Red Apron library, curling up with a good cookbook and getting inspired to create wonderful food!
I urge you to do the same!