This spring, cookbooks are coming home. New titles target readers who want to make the most of their kitchens, whether that means learning the basics, mastering new skills or a single dish, saving time and money at mealtimes, or taking full advantage of their arsenal of gadgets.
Cookbook publishers are taking readers back to school with “Cooking 101”–style titles that tutor novices in the basics and help more seasoned chefs refine their skills.
America’s Test Kitchen has long produced cookbooks that teach basic techniques, and Adam Kowit, executive editor at ATK, says that, though these fundamental titles represent a renewable audience, what constitutes the fundamentals changes over time.
“Does a basics cookbook have to start with boiling an egg?” Kowit asks. “Our research showed that new cooks—not only millennials, because it could be someone of any age—want to learn cooking in different ways. The challenge is redefining what the fundamentals are and finding new ways of bringing this information to our audience.”
James Beard Award–winning author and cooking instructor Patricia Wells, who has schools in Paris and Provence, says that her latest book, My Master Recipes (Morrow, Mar.), draws on her 25 years as an instructor, with 165 recipes that teach culinary techniques such as blanching, searing, simmering, sweating, steaming, braising, and deep frying.
The abundance of resources for the modern home cook—Internet recipes and video instruction, ready access to once-obscure ingredients, an ever-growing array of cooking equipment—has not replaced fundamentals cookbooks, Wells says, but instead yielded a greater desire to learn. “Years ago, students came for a nice batch of recipes and menus, as well as a good time in the kitchen and at the table,” she says. “Today, students have much greater access to information and can [follow] their passions, be they grilling, or smoking, or cooking sous vide. They don’t approach cooking the way our mothers did.”
Samin Nosrat developed her approach to cooking and teaching, after landing a job at Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse; Michael Pollan may be Nosrat’s best-known student. Her method, which focuses on four elements—salt and fat for flavor, acid for balance, and heat for texture—forms the basis for Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (Simon & Schuster, Apr.), with illustrations by graphic journalist Wendy McNaughton.
Nosrat says that, for many people, learning to cook is an antidote, and an adjunct, to the pervasiveness of screen time. “So much of our time is spent in this abstract world,” she says. “There’s this hunger for the simplest things—using your hands, and connecting with people around the table. I used to give this talk about how cooking is so important, and so vital to us, it will never be overtaken by digital life.”
Nosrat believes that’s still true, though social media is exerting an influence: “People who are obsessed with their Instagram likes want to have the perfect runny egg yolk.” She hopes her book will help new cooks ease up on themselves. “We’re constantly being pelted with people who are the best at what they do. Dinner doesn’t need to be this grand thing with 10 different sauces.”
This sentiment resonates with several publishers PW spoke with, who see the back-to-basics mindset as a response to the recent dominance of professional-chef-authored books.
“In the last few years,” says Lia Ronnen, publisher at Artisan, “there have been so many impenetrable, chef-y cookbooks, designed more like monographs than teaching tools, that I think the market is desperate for a book that puts the reader’s interests first.”
To that end, Ronnen signed up the first book by Alison Cayne, owner of Haven’s Kitchen, a cooking school in New York City. Ronnen had taken classes there and felt confident that “their philosophy would be a wonderful basis for a beginner’s cookbook.”
The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School teaches the reader how to cook, not just to follow a recipe, Ronnen says. Each of the book’s nine chapters centers on a key lesson: the vegetables chapter is a tutorial on seasonality; the sauce chapter focuses on balance.
Anne Ficklen, executive editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, echoes Ronnen’s take on the resurgence of cookbooks marketed toward the home chef. “Many recent bestsellers have been personality driven, so it isn’t surprising people want fundamental titles as a balance,” she says. “Learning the basics lets people make food exactly the way they want, not how someone else likes it.”
In March, HMH will release a book that could be filed under “new basics”: Robin Robertson’s Veganize It, a primer for preparing homemade versions of store-bought vegan products, which have become increasingly available as vegan cuisine has gone mainstream. Robertson has written 20 vegetarian and vegan cookbooks, among them Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker, which has sold more than 108,000 print copies since 2004, according to NPD BookScan. In the introduction to her new book, she explains why readers might want to make their own dairy-free sour cream or vegan sausage rather than buy it in the supermarket: packaged products “can be expensive, highly processed, full of preservatives, or not to your liking.”
Aside from these motivations, count Robertson’s editor among those who cite the influence of social media. “People are inspired to share their DIY experience,” Ficklen says. “The process is as important as the final product.”
While some cookbooks present a wide-angle view of cooking techniques, others focus on the mastery of a single subject. Here, too, foodie culture in the digital realm may have something to do with the growing demand to take a deep dive into a single dish.
“The Internet has transformed the way a lot of people cook,” says Camaren Subhiyah, editor at Abrams. “There are millions of recipes and video tutorials at our fingertips. You can definitely go down a rabbit hole researching a single subject online, but it’s not always the best format for learning and you’re not always getting quality information from a credible source.”
In April, Abrams will release Joe Beddia’s Pizza Camp, which concentrates on the basics of pizza making, recreating the pies Beddia serves out of his tiny Philadelphia shop. The book hinges on old-fashioned process and technique, including extensive sections on the dish’s building blocks: dough, sauce, and cheese.
In May, Norton will release its guide to a classic breakfast offering—the “test dish” for chefs auditioning in a new restaurant, according editorial director Ann Treistman. In The Perfect Omelet, John E. Finn, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute who teaches courses on cuisine and culture at Wesleyan University, explores four core techniques of omelet making—a classic French omelet, an American diner omelet, a frittata, and a dessert omelet.
“People like to master something,” Treistman says, when asked why single-subject books attract readers. “Our attention is pulled in so many directions, and we’re always trying to juggle so many things, that it’s kind of a wonderful meditation to focus on learning a single task, and do it as well as possible.”
Stocks and broths, often a footnote in generalized cookbooks, take center stage in Rachael Mamane’s Mastering Stocks and Broths (Chelsea Green, June). Mamane, owner of small-scale broth company Brooklyn Bouillon, delves into the science of stock making and provides more than 100 recipes that incorporate stocks and broths as foundational ingredients.
Makenna Goodman, senior editor at Chelsea Green, says that the abundance of online information makes some cooks seek out complete immersion in one subject. The problem with this kind of access is there are too many choices, and people often feel overwhelmed, she says. “They need to be trained by a master, step-by-step. This doesn’t happen by watching a YouTube video.”
Know Thy Tools
Home cooks love their gadgets: in 2016, three of the top 10 bestselling titles of the year were devoted to a single kitchen tool—the Inspiralizer, the air fryer, and the electric pressure cooker. Those books continue to do well; The Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook (Rockridge), for example, has already sold 45,000 print copies this year, per BookScan.
Adams Media is among the publishers picking up on the trend, with the April release of The “I Love My Instant Pot” Recipe Book by Michelle Fagone. “We’ve been publishing small appliance and gadget-specific books for a while, starting with slow cookers and pressure cookers and now moving onto newer gadgets,” says Brendan O’Neill, Adams’s editorial director. Appliance-based titles sell well for the publisher, he says, and, like the readership for basic cooking skills, the readership for tie-in books is a renewable one, as gadgets continually earn new devotees looking to maximize their purchases.
But not all hot appliances are new ones. America’s Test Kitchen has seen “mammoth” success, Kowit says, with its slow cooker titles; 2011’s Slow Cooker Revolution, for one, has sold 270,000 print copies, according to BookScan. “While we’re always looking out for new items as they come on the market,” he says, “we also look at what people already have in their kitchens and maybe aren’t using to full advantage.”
Recently, the food processor stood out as a common but underused kitchen tool, owned by a vast majority of ATK’s readers yet untapped as a cookbook topic, Kowit says. After putting the appliance through its paces—grinding burger meat, making pizza dough, mixing cake batter, and more—the result is Food Processor Perfection, which the publisher will release in May.
Page Street is turning its attention to an older kitchen staple with Cast Iron Gourmet by Megan Keno (Aug.). Even classic cookware can require some instruction before use, and Will Kiester, publisher at Page Street, says kitchen tool tie-in books pick up where product manuals leave off, expanding on the essentials while not overwhelming the reader.
Saving Time and Money
The coming months bring titles that respond to the shrinking amount of time modern life allows for homemade meals, on the one hand, and, on the other, the ever-increasing desire to shop local, cook quick and clean, and deep-six the takeout on hectic weeknights—all while staying on budget.
In March, Grand Central Life & Style is publishing Scraps, Wilt & Weeds by Mads Refslund, one of the initial partners at the internationally acclaimed Danish restaurant Noma. Acquiring editor Karen Murgolo, the v-p and editorial director at Life & Style, says that Refslund’s no-waste philosophy is perfect for budget- and eco-conscious home cooks.
“I think everyone has been made aware of how much produce America throws out,” Murgolo says. “People are trying to buy better quality and more organic food—and that type of food is more expensive, so you don’t want to waste any of it.”
Scribner is courting ambitious but overscheduled home chefs in Elettra Wiedemann’s The Impatient Foodie (June). The author, Refinery29’s food editor, aims to adapt the ideals of the slow food movement to the realities of busy schedules.
“So many of us have become aware of the profound effect food choices have on our health and the environment,” says Shannon Welch, executive editor at Scribner. “But when we get home from a long day the last thing we want to do is spend hours in the kitchen.”
New York Times food columnist Melissa Clark has also set her sights on high-impact, low-labor weeknight eating. In Dinner (Clarkson Potter, Mar.), each recipe is intended to stand alone, or almost alone, with minimal or no side dishes. Small flourishes—charred lemons, or a touch of horseradish—add flavor. (For our profile of Clark, see “Dinner Is Served,” p. 34.)
British social media sensation Izy Hossack shares her (mostly) gluten-free or vegan recipes with more than 222,000 Instagram followers. In her second cookbook, The Savvy Cook (Mitchell Beazley, July), the 20-year-old, who blogs at Top with Cinnamon, offers menu plans and charts to help budget-conscious cooks give leftovers a makeover.
Parrish Ritchie, in her Life with the Crust Cut Off blog, takes time saving a step further, writing about preparing meals for her family quickly, using a few store-bought components to jump-start the processes. Countryman Press is publishing a book based on the blog, Halfway Homemade, in August.
Parrish suggests using rotisserie chicken, store-bought biscuit dough, and frozen vegetables to get chicken potpies on the table more quickly; sugar cookie mix, banana pudding, cream cheese, and ice cream toppings come together as banana split cookie bites. “Preparing home-cooked meals can be just as easy as piling the family into the car to hit the drive-through,” says Aurora Bell, an editor at Countryman. “Cooking at home gives busy families a chance to relax and spend time together, and in many cases it’s significantly cheaper than eating out.” Or, as food editor Sam Sifton recently wrote in the New York Times, thrift is the new takeout.
Below, more on the subject of cookbooks.
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Stocking the Shelves: Spring 2017 Cookbooks
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