The book jacket for The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook: 101 Asian Recipes Simple Enough for Tonight’s Dinner by Jaden Hair features a smiling photo of the author and a plate of noodles with shrimp and vegetables. Hair’s name appears in a script that looks like her signature, suggesting she might be famous. And then there’s the bright, circle-within-a-circle logo in the lower left corner that looks a lot like the “As Seen on Food Network” logo that graces the covers of books by Rachael Ray and Giada DeLaurentiis, except it says, “As seen on steamykitchen.com.” Looks and content-wise, the book signals a departure for Steamy Kitchen’s publisher, Tuttle, which is traditionally known for its serious books on Asian culture. It’s a not-so-subtle message to consumers: Jaden Hair is just like the chefs you see on Food TV (even if she hasn’t made it there yet).
The Vermont publisher describes Hair, 36, as a “food writer and up-and-coming television star.” She’s a food blogger with a huge following (half a million page views a month), an obsessive Tweeter and a relentless self-promoter. Born in Hong Kong, she grew up in Nebraska and California, and now lives in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area. Steamy Kitchen is her first book. Tuttle found Hair when a Tuttle editor’s sister, who lives in Hair’s area, told the editor about Hair’s columns in the Tampa Tribune and spots on the local news. The editor met Hair, and six months later, they signed a contract.
Steamy Kitchen fit Tuttle’s new direction. Over the past two years or so, the house has been acquiring cookbooks that place more emphasis on accessibility. “In the past, we had cooks in Asia [writing books for us] who were very reputable, but the general American population was not going to use their ingredients and follow their techniques,” says Tuttle sales and marketing director Christopher Johns. Hair, conversely, relies on ingredients that can be found for the most part at local supermarkets. And Hair’s persona—she’s “sort of a firecracker” with a “unique, energetic voice”—lured Tuttle in, says Johns. Johns likens Hair to Rachael Ray, because of her “fresh, easy, 30-minute kind of recipes”; and Lisa Lillien, aka Hungry Girl, because she has a devoted Web following. Tuttle will release the $27.95 hardcover in October.
Hair, who is married with two young sons, says she was attracted to Tuttle because of its understanding of Asian-American cuisine. “They understand that Japanese Seven Spice [a common Asian seasoning] is not a strange ingredient,” she says. Hair didn’t go to culinary school (she learned to cook from her mother), didn’t hire a co-writer for her book, and shot all the book’s photos (full-color throughout) herself. “It’s real food. We eat it afterwards,” she says.
If Steamy Kitchen is the hit its author and publisher are hoping for—Tuttle won’t announce its first printing, but Johns says “it’s three or four times what we normally print on a cookbook”—it will indicate a much bigger franchise for Hair’s brand. Tuttle has an option on Hair’s next book and is developing a series with her “based on her Steamy Kitchen concept,” says Johns. Food Network has contacted Hair, wanting her to audition for its show The Next Food Network Star, but she declined: “I think I’ve come a long way, and don’t see a reason why I’d want to risk my reputation based on someone who’s editing some footage.” Still, with blurbs from Michael Ruhlman, Ming Tsai and Martin Yan, along with Hair’s blog readers and her local celebrity, Steamy Kitchen shows promise.