About a year ago, Gourmetlaunched a cookbook club, in which it selects a cookbook every month, reviewing it in the print magazine and offering related multimedia content on its web site. Diane Abrams, director of Gourmet Books, spoke with Cooking the Books about what books she’s loved, what she’s been disappointed by, and a couple of unforeseen quirks in the way cookbooks are published that the experts at Gourmet didn’t anticipate.
PW: So how’s it going so far?
DA: I think it’s going really well. I love doing this.
PW: How easy has it been to find books to feature?
DA: Finding books is half the battle. It took us awhile to get up and running. At first we were trying to explain what we were doing and we started pooling everybody we could think of who was publishing cookbooks. [But now we receive submissions.] There are always the great sources, like the Ten Speeds—I think I love every book they come out with. There are a couple of publishers like that that you can just depend on; you know they’re going to be good.
PW: But you can’t pick all Ten Speed Press books.
DA: No, what we’re really trying to do is make this an eclectic club. The books need to be appropriate for the season. And we’d like to shake things up, picking everything from memoirs to anthologies to big cookbooks, so people aren’t able to guess what we’re going to choose. But at the end of the day it’s about what works.
PW: How many books have you tested?
DA: About 45, and we’ve chosen 17 so far. And before that we looked through hundreds to get to the 45. We’ve had a lot of disappointments.
PW: Such as?
DA: We’ve really been disappointed by chefs who create books that don’t work but look gorgeous. Chefs really do have the mentality of “publish or perish.” They need to keep doing cookbooks for marketing purposes but many of them have not been tested properly, and then you’re so disappointed. You’re 10 recipes in and you say, “These aren’t working.” They look so good, they’re glossy, they have beautiful titles, and you know the guy or the woman can cook because you’ve been to their restaurant. But it’s one thing to cook for 100 people a night, another to whittle something down to serve four or six. Also, not all chefs are pastry chefs, and their desserts don’t work—so why put them in the book? It’s like an editor said, “Rustle up a few desserts.”
PW: What have been some of your staff's favorites [Gourmet editors test the recipes]?
DA: A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis. He’s figured out how to make three-recipe menus that are seasonal and beautiful on the plate. And Andrew Carmellini’s Urban Italian—love that book. It has so many recipes and is so informative. We found out after we’d picked it that Home Cooking with Charlie Trotter was a reprint, but it was so good, we decided we wanted to make room on our list for some classics. Also, wichcraft by Tom Colicchio and Sisha Ortuzar. We really enjoyed that one.
PW: Have you come upon any unexpected hurtles?
DA: We really wanted to put some foreign titles onto our list but we’re now realizing that foreign titles can be problematic because metric conversions don’t always work out. We want to continue to look at those but we’re wary, and really test those to death to make sure they work.