Phaidon publisher Emilia Terragni
Phaidon publisher Emilia Terragni

Emilia Terragni on what makes a great cookbook

The New York Times considers the future of the cookbook, and finds some promising new examples in our list

Now that we can find 25 half-decent coq-au-vin recipes online, what use are cookbooks to today’s home cooks? The New York Times’ Kim Severson wrote an illuminating piece about examining how and why print titles are changing. The article, published in yesterday’s paper, drew on a wide range of examples, from comic-book cookbooks, through to PhD-level molecular-gastronomy guides.

 

Pot roast cross section photograph, from The Modernist Cuisine
Pot roast cross section photograph, from The Modernist Cuisine

Severson's piece not only looked at how digital media has changed the way amateur chefs prepare their food, but also at the growing abilities of many home cooks. “The average person is a much better cook and so much more sophisticated than they once were,” the Cook It Raw chef Wylie Dufresne told the paper.

 

Tortillas. Photo by Araceli Paz. From Enrique Olvera’s Mexico From the Inside Out
Tortillas. Photo by Araceli Paz. From Enrique Olvera’s Mexico From the Inside Out

Rather than simply deliver tried-and-tested recipes, today’s foodies want to know more about the background behind the cuisine, to understand the cultural significance of this or that ingredient or technique, and why they might choose to make say, a potato-chip omelette or a pork dish that resembles the Mexican flag.

How should chefs and, indeed book publishers respond? Our own Emilia Terragni, Phaidon’s publisher and the woman responsible for such successes as our Silver Spoon series, as well as our René RedzepiFerran Adrià and Magnus Nilsson books among many others, believes that we should not underestimate a chef who can also compose good prose.

 

Magnus Nilsson butchering. From Faviken
Magnus Nilsson butchering. From Faviken

“I am working with chefs who are really good writers so the story is not only very interesting from the content but it is a real pleasure to read them,” she told the paper. 

By way of illustration, the Times alighted on The Nordic Cookbook, the 700-recipe regional anthology, researched and written by the aforementioned brilliant Faviken chef, Magnus Nilsson. Indeed, Nilsson not only wrote the book, he also shot the photography. Impressive multitasking, especially for someone so obviously talented in other areas.

 

René Redzepi and Massimo Bottura
René Redzepi and Massimo Bottura

For more on The Nordic Cookbook go here; for another great chef, writer and indeed NY Times contributor try Coi by Daniel Patterson; and, of course there’s the charming Massimo Bottura, the brilliant René Redzepi; the Amazonian adventures of Alex Atala; and, well, you get the picture. For more happy cooking and reading, take a look at our other chefs books here.