Cookbook deals aren't usually the most talked-about in publishing, but Ecco has recently made a splash—not because of one deal, but because of many. The HarperCollins imprint headed by Dan Halpern used to do about two cookbooks or food titles a year—and it has just signed up seven new titles by some of today's hottest chefs.
"It's kind of scary, and a lot of work," said Halpern. "[Cookbooks are] very labor intensive. You have the chef, the writer, the recipe tester, the photographer, and the stylist." Ecco doesn't have a dedicated cookbook editor, so Halpern does most of the editing himself. He said he didn't set out to expand Ecco's program, but as the imprint's list grew with chefs like Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain, "it was a lot easier to attract people and agents."
Batali and Bourdain could be considered Ecco's house authors, at least in the culinary category. Batali's most recent book, Molto Gusto, published in April of this year, has about 90,000 copies in print. Bourdain released Medium Raw last month, and so far Ecco has 200,000 copies in print. Later this year, Ecco will release Keep the Change: A Clueless Tipper's Quest to Become the Guru of the Gratuity by Steve Dublanica, whose Waiter Rant was one of 2008's most talked-about food books, and Sweet Magic by esteemed pastry chef Michel Richard.
Next year's impressive roster includes American Flavors by Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman. Bloomsbury published Carmellini's Urban Italian in 2008; it went on to win a James Beard Award, while Carmellini later opened the downtown New York hotspot Locanda Verde. Also on the list for 2011 is an as yet untitled opus on Spanish cuisine from Claudia Roden, herself a Beard Award winner for 1972's classic Book of Middle Eastern Food, and The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert, a major food writer who Craig Claiborne called "one of the finest and most influential cookbook authors in this country." In 2012, Ecco is planning a book by New York chef April Bloomfield, whose restaurants the Spotted Pig and the Breslin have drawn rave reviews, titled A Girl and Her Pig. Ecco has also signed up a collaboration by New York Times food writers Julia Moskin and Kim Severson called Cookfight, based on Moskin and Severson's wildly popular 2009 article about their challenge to create a dinner party for six people with only $50, with an introduction by Frank Bruni.
Before HarperCollins bought Ecco in 1999, Halpern said the house had difficulty luring serious cookbook authors because it could only pay advances of $2,000 to $3,000. Now, 11 years later, that isn't a problem. With a reputation for publishing well-established chefs, Ecco has a new problem: finding time for Halpern to edit all the books he's acquired.