The Paris Cookbook Fair, which took place March 7-11, is organized annually by a father-son team, Edouard Cointreau Sr. and Jr., of the Cointreau liquor heritage. The fair has three professional days—“same as Frankfurt and London Book Fairs,” says Edouard Cointreau Sr., the president of the fair, in his introduction to the program. The professional days are supplemented by a weekend open to the general public: for cookbook perusal and purchase, wine and craft beers tastings, plus conferences and demonstrations from 70 international chefs. The events have great range, with prominent names from the French gastronomy scene (like Jean-Pierre Piège, Pierre Gagnaire, and Guy Martin) to more fanciful conference topics such as “Angry Birds – Bad Piggies’ Egg Recipes.”
Hosted at Le 104, a spacious cultural venue in the 19th arrondissement, the fair spanned two floors, with exhibitor stands and various showcases and presentations distributed throughout. The attendees from the publishing world are a mix of local French and foreign, with a sprinkling of representation from Germany, Brazil, the U.K., Sweden. Just under a dozen companies came over from China, the featured guest of honor. Some publishers came from very far indeed, but the representation was sparse, with a single publisher on behalf of an entire country: Sedes Holding from Turkey, Murdoch Books from Australia, Robert Rose from Canada.
In attendance from the U.S.: The Lisa Ekus Group; Cheryl Tan, A Tiger in the Kitchen; Bryan Au, Raw Star Recipes; and Virginia Willis, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; and Australian-born wine importer and writer Deborah Gray.
There was talk of technology and an area dedicated to it, of which Dorie Greenspan's impressive (and expensive-to-produce) CulinApp was the star. The French market hasn’t much gotten on board with apps, perhaps with the exception of Alain Ducasse and Larousse; neighboring Germany has been much more involved, and evolved. Of France’s seeming unwillingness to develop technologically, Cointreau Sr. says that “the digital revolution is not solely resistance from publishers. The [French] public is ‘not there yet’ – it’s difficult to make that comfortable.” Thusly, from a business point of view, profits are not there; there is curiosity, but not at the expense of a hefty thousands-of-dollars investment in something no one has adapted to yet. Cointreau Sr. anticipates that “publishers will follow when the market follows.” Looking beyond Europe, however, he remarks: “China is ahead of everyone else.”
The exhibitors at the fair had “trade stands,” which included both a foreign rights table for meetings and a real stand. This encourages “le rendez-vous improvisé,” Edouard Cointreau Jr. notes, which is to say that the visual aspect of a well-presented stand can lure in young buyers. “It’s easier to sell cookbook rights in a niche fair, in the same sector, than in Frankfurt—people are lost, amongst reference books or military books. Here, it’s the same market, like Bologna.”
Publishers from China, Brazil, South Korea and Russia are especially eager to buy, Cointreau Jr. commented. Indeed, Cointreau Sr. tried to bring in a bigger draw from outside Europe, i.e. from Latin American and Asian countries. “The advantage of buying is that you don’t need new pictures or a new layout, so you get both a sense of imported culture and you economize.”
Moreover, art book publishers that have veered into gastronomy, like Phaidon and Taschen—both in attendance at the fair—“take the level up,” Cointreau Jr. says, meaning both the legitimacy of the fair, and the industry in general. His father recalls that, not that long ago, cookbooks were “badly considered… awfully designed, with awful pictures, stock photos.” He cites New Zealand as the game changer of the milieu, pioneering a database with truly attractive photos. Cointreau Sr. emphasizes that “there’s a development towards the high end, worldwide, with stunning photography and illustrations.”
Another trend: the true re-evaluation of ingredients, such as careful attention to source of good meat and, conversely, a more widespread consideration of vegetarian cooking. The sources of this newfound attention don’t always come from expected parties; Cointreau Sr. remarks that “the best Jewish cookbook from this year came from Colombia.”
In tandem with the fair are the Gourmand Awards, which were hosted March 6th at the Folies Bergère. 162 countries submitted entries, and Cointreau Sr. is quick to compare the fact that “there are 193 countries in the U.N.,” so the international representation is rather vast. A space at the fair was dedicated to the awarded books, a showcase that gave a wider perspective on the market and a sense of how trends have spread to various countries. “There’s an overall sense of tolerance and diversity,” Cointreau Sr. says of the fair.