In an attempt to help its readers “cut through the clutter” of the 24,000 cookbooks published each year, Gourmet magazine is launching the Gourmet Cookbook Club, which will select one book a month. The magazine's editors will choose books that offer “imaginative insight and delicious results.” The club's inaugural selection is Fish Without a Doubt by Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore, which Houghton Mifflin will publish May 21. Gourmet's June issue, which goes on sale May 20, will announce the selection, and a simultaneous feature will run at Gourmet.com. Selections will be marked with a Gourmet plate-shaped seal to indicate they are official selections.
Gourmet editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl said she and her staff established the club in response to the overwhelming number of cookbooks published in the U.S. “Tons of cookbooks come pouring in here all the time,” she said. “Every time we find one we really love we say, 'We ought to share this with other people.' ” Reichl considered adding cookbook reviews to Gourmet, but decided a book club would be more inclusive of readers and Gourmet's online community. A group of editors winnow each month's submissions down to four or five books, and then the 30-odd staff members are invited to take the books home and try recipes. The best book becomes that month's pick. Reichl said the main criteria are that a book “makes you want to cook and the recipes really work.” All types of cookbooks will be considered, in all formats—and the club will occasionally choose old books. Although the first pick is a Houghton book, and 2004's Gourmet Cookbook was also published by Houghton, Reichl said no publisher's books will be favored over another's.
Each month, the magazine, which has a circulation of about one million, will devote a page to announcing the latest selection, explaining why the editors chose it and sharing a recipe from the book. At the book club's home page, gourmet.com/cookbookclub (live later this month), visitors will find more recipes from the books, videos of the authors demonstrating recipes from their books, plus quizzes on the book's topic.
In a marketplace where celebrity chefs with TV platforms dominate the cookbook bestseller lists, publishers seemed pleased with Gourmet's plan. Houghton publicity manager Alia Habib said, “I'm sure this designation will be as coveted by cookbook authors as the Oprah sticker was by novelists and memoirists.” Ann Bramson, publisher of Artisan Books, said, “We're thrilled. Gourmet is so respected, and when a cookbook is chosen as a club selection, it means that the book really delivers.” Independent cookbook publicist Carrie Bachman said, “It's a brilliant idea. I'm surprised no one thought of it sooner.” Reichl said she has received support from B&N cookbook buyer Lee Stern, as well as buyers from Amazon and Borders.
The June issue of Gourmet shares highlights and a recipe from Fish Without a Doubt. Online extras will include video of Moonen, the author, demonstrating techniques for preparing fish. Reichl and Moonen are scheduled to appear on The Today Show June 5.