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December 10, 2006


Joe Fish

By the time your sardine is old enough for you to have time, the book will be written amidst the posts of this blog. And while your writing style has a narrative tone, it is far from prosaic. You're mistaking realism for subduedness. People read for a reason.


Seems to me that cookbook publishing by cooks/chefs in the current times mimics publication of books of sermons by pastors during the 1600s in England. The press had recently become liberalized and the most prolific and well-regarded auteurs were the local pastors. They had a wide potential audience - other literate pastors who had to fill a 2 hour block _each week_ with something novel, entertaining, appropriate, insightful.

Of course, nobody could do it all the time and everybody was open to cribbing. The most well regarded pastors were flattered by their congregations into publishing dull tomes of all their lifelong sermons, to edify 'the masses.' Most of were read by very few people, except perhaps the people plagiarizing them.
They are among the most pompous and disposable books written over the past 2000 years.

Why were they written, then, given that they made nobody much money - they were virtually vanity press..?

Because the material was already at hand, yes... that's part of it.

But mostly because the authors believed they could be immortalized this way. They believed they had something eternal and important to say. They weren't satisfied making immediately relevant pronouncements to their captive audience, to tending to their little flocks. They wanted to speak to everyone over all time.

Cooks these days should realize they are important in the lives of their immediate communities of eaters. They can bless a special occaision with wonderful food and service. They can bring someone who may be deeply depressed back from the grave with one brilliant meal. They can smooth over family dissention for a brief period and bring peace to the table. They can, with fair prices, make people happy for a couple days to remember what they ate.

They are not, however, generally going to bless the world through a book. The experience of the meal won't be at all suitable to making it at home, really, and most restaurants don't want to copy each other via cookbooks - they prefer to do it through culinary school educations and more surruptitious means, like word of mouth.

Some thing require cookbooks. El Bulli needs to put out cookbooks, because everything is so strange and possibly revolutionary (or a dead end). But most places shouldn't. They should be content to do a wonderful performance, and then... another wonderful performance.


Restaurant-generated cookbooks are among the ones I most often hurl across the room (I receive -- as you well know, Haddock) dozens of review copies a year). Is it chef ego or simple hustle behind these? Too many of them are full of recipes that home cooks are unlikely to use, let alone succeed at preparing. There seems to be little attention or caring given to the limitations of the normal kitchen, its equipment, and its master/mistress.......My feeling is that one should write a cookbook when the cookbook itself asks to be written, when there's a passionate sense of wanting to share or educate on the part of the writer. A voice that needs to be heard.....Meanwhile, do what you love (the cooking part) and what you must (the business part). If your need to write begins to grow and preoccupy you, that is when you should do it, and only then.....And we all know you're up to the job, just from reading your words in this space....PS Bookshelves? Is that a hint for the return of the magic mountain of lendings?


I hear you ben & kudzu. I'm happy to delight my community but my body will only be able to withstanf kitchen life for so long.
given we have zero savings I need to find ways to bring in money using my mind, not my body.


Haddock, thanks to your description and to personal experience I think I have a good idea of how overwhelmingly busy life can be somebody who runs a small business while raising a baby. But it occurs to me that this blog, besides helping hone the writing thing, may provide some resources that could help you get that book project moving. For example, I was working at a Napa Valley restaurant during the time the owners published a fairly successful cookbook (with 10 speed, who they liked). Everybody who worked at the restaurant, some friends and regulars, was enlisted to test the recipes at home and bring the results in for tasting. I'd think you have a pretty darn good set of recipe testers, proof-readers, and copy editors lurking and commenting here.


well, I know how hard kitchen life is. Loved one is a line cook, and I help handle 200-300 covers once a week. At the same time, I'm mostly a brain worker myself and know how that can be.

Frankly, when the back and knees are giving out, then perhaps, rather than writing a book, you would do better trying to educate a sous chef or two into an executive chef. In fact, it isn't too soon to start that sort of training. You'll need other people to cover most shifts on their feet; but you can still hang out by the garbage and monitor your losses, handle purveyors, and generally morph into the all-seeing chef owner - who does the brain work on the business end.


Wow! Great info. I wish, I could have such a writing skills.

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