It took the art publisher Phaidon, which turned 100 this year, 82 years to step into the kitchen. But once it did, it found success overnight. In 2005, Phaidon published its first cookbook, The Silver Spoon, the first English-language translation of the indispensable Italian culinary bible Il cucchiaio d'argento. The tome has gone on to sell more than 6 million copies, according to the publisher.
The plan behind The Silver Spoon, according to Phaidon, was to take the humble cookbook and instill it with "the elevated design and production previously reserved for art titles." The plan worked. Since then, Phaidon has released well over 100 books in the cooking space, including a baker's dozen last year, each drawing from the vision of "elegantly produced, accessibly priced art books" with which the publisher was founded in 1923 in Vienna.
Since 2005, Phaidon has published works by some of the world's best-known chefs, including Ferran Adrià, Massimo Bottura, Enrique Olvera, René Redzepi, and Ana Roš. In addition to books featuring the recipes of a certain chef or restaurant, the publisher has released around two dozen hulking volumes in the tradition of The Silver Spoon—books that focus on the cuisine of a specific country or region, or even of a single-subject, such as Emily Elyse Miller's Breakfast: The Cookbook.
This past year, for instance, the publisher released Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook, a sequel to Nancy Singleton Hachisu's 2018 Japan: The Cookbook, as well as The North African Cookbook and The Korean Cookbook, by Atomix chef Junghyun Park and Korean culinary expert Jungyoon Choi. Titles for next spring include a reissue of Spain: The Cookbook, Salma Hage's The Levantine Vegetarian, and the latest follow-up to Phaidon's first culinary hit, The Silver Spoon: Pasta.
Since 2014, Phaidon's North American cookbook program has been led by Emily Takoudes, who was brought on board as executive commissioning editor of food, and who has debuted subcategories at the publisher including single-subject cookbooks and beverages, which began in 2016 with Regarding Cocktails by renowned Milk & Honey bartender Sasha Petraske and his widow, Georgette Moger. We spoke with Takoudes about how she came to Phaidon, the value of massive guides to wide-ranging national cuisines, the rise of the celebrity chef in cookbook culture, and more.
Can you tell us a bit about your career and how you came to run the cookbook editorial program at Phaidon?
I moved to New York in 1999 to be an editorial assistant at Little, Brown. I went to Simon & Schuster as a nonfiction associate editor for Alice Mayhew, to Ecco/HarperCollins as a generalist nonfiction editor, then to Clarkson Potter/Random House as a senior editor of cookbooks and food narratives. Nearly twenty years ago at Ecco I worked on my first cookbook, which was assigned to me—hence I “fell” into the category.
Phaidon has been publishing art books for 100 years, but its cookbook program started a little less than two decades ago. What prompted the entry into the cooking space? How does the creation, production, and promotion of one of your cookbooks resemble or differ from the same on one of Phaidon’s art books? How long does the process typically take?
In 2005, Emilia Terragni—an Italian Phaidon editor, now associate publisher—introduced culinary to Phaidon, and readers around the globe with our first Silver Spoon title, a stunning tome of thousands of Italian recipes for the home cook. It was a perfect entry point, publishing alongside books on architecture, design, art, and other visual categories.
Many of the books at Phaidon are commissioned—meaning we seek out who we’d like to publish and develop the book projects together. So it is a highly curated list, and all our titles have very high production standards. For culinary titles, there may be eating involved as part of the commissioning, especially if it's a restaurant book. The editorial process is different for cookbooks because of the technicality of the recipes and layers of specialists, including copy editors and photographers shooting new images of the finished dishes.
After a year or two of collaborative editorial work, the manuscript is delivered and we publish one to one and a half years afterwards. It is a lengthy process. I am currently signing up books to publish in 2026. Our promotion for a cookbook may involve a collaboration dinner between our author and another chef, a cooking demo, a private lecture about the book, or a public conversation.
Your cookbooks fall into multiple categories, with the program having an apparent emphasis on two: chefs and their restaurants, and national and regional cuisines. How do you discover the chefs and writers you want to work with? Can you talk us through the differences in putting together a book such as Jason Hammel's The Lula Cafe Cookbook from The Korea Cookbook?
I ate at Lula Cafe in Chicago in 2012 and later a Phaidon author highly recommended we consider him. Through my experiences of eating there and talking with Jason over years, and reading some sample materials, we came together on a project we both really believed in that turned into The Lula Cafe Cookbook. Such chef and restaurant cookbooks come about in a variety of ways. I keep my ear to the ground, eat around, stay connected in the food industry, and have conversations with interesting and visionary chefs and writers, regardless of what stage they are in their careers.
For The Korean Cookbook, I very much wanted to add this cuisine to our existing bible series—hundreds of home cooking recipes that celebrate food culture, deeply researched and written by experts immersed in the region. I did my homework to think about who to commission as the author and I was pulled towards so many qualified candidates. In the end, after months of discussions and reviewing proposals, I settled on Junghyun “JP” Park (of Atomix, Atoboy, Naro) and Jungyoon Choi as coauthors. For these tomes, sometimes I meet someone and years later I want to do a book on a subject of which they’re the expert, then I approach them and we make the book. Sometimes an author comes to me about one project, and it turns into this other subject about which they’re passionate and eager to do a deep exploration. This year, JP was the highest ranked American restaurant on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, he was named James Beard Best Chef: New York State, and his Phaidon book has just published, so he’s really having his moment.
Over the past quarter-century, the status of the chef in popular culture has risen to almost equate with that of a film director or visual artist. What role do you think Phaidon played in that progression? What do you think that increase in visibility for chefs has meant for the cookbook space?
I do believe that through the intersection of art and culinary, Phaidon creates a unique physical object—that people want to hold, own, read, use, gift. These books are both current and timeless all at once. For many of our chefs, a Phaidon book has become a calling card and led them to a wider global audience. I was incredibly proud, for instance, to publish chefs Ana Roš and Manu Buffara—known in their respective countries of Slovenia and Brazil and starting to gain international acclaim when I met them years ago. They now have incredible visibility because of their lauded restaurants, and now their Phaidon chef monographs are part of that reach. After a decade of publishing such books, it’s still thrilling to know that through our vast network of trade and specialty accounts, we reach readers in towns and cities all over the world.
What’s the guiding philosophy of the bible series? Why big, comprehensive tomes on regional cooking?
Our subjects and authors (whether chefs or food writers) represent a diversity and breadth of cuisines across cultures, regions, and countries. We cover the globe when it comes to places we celebrate. Our cookbooks are for readers anywhere in the world who are interested in cooking, dining, or food culture and who are eager to explore through the perspective of an author with a unique and sometimes visionary lens.
The author of these books may be a chef or a food writer/historian/scholar. The authors all have deep knowledge, passion, and experience with the topic. They are selected and commissioned by Phaidon to do an extraordinary, authoritative, and comprehensive deep dive that often takes several years to research and make into a book. They have a minimum of 350 recipes, but may have many more. Each recipe has a headnote that offers cultural, historic, and/or culinary context to the recipe, ingredients, cooking techniques, or traditions. The introductory material is usually quite extensive, with the author describing the bookmaking journey and connection to the place or content, but also providing an overview of the cuisine—for the reader arriving to these pages and interested in the topic regardless of where they live. These books feature specially commissioned food photography and sometimes landscape images of the place as well.
What aspects of Phaidon’s cookbooks do you think make them stand out in the cooking space compared to cookbooks put out by some of your competitors?
Led by our longtime creative director Julia Hasting, we commission designers from around the world for our titles, giving our books a distinctive edge, beauty, and sophistication. Our cookbooks have plenty of narrative plus visual storytelling through the photography, so we’re able to really take our readers on a journey—to a restaurant or place.
Who are some chefs whose books you have yet to commission but would love to work with? What are some cuisines not yet on the publication slate that you’d like to publish books on?
I’m not ready to share those secrets yet, but I can share a few books in my pipeline. In 2024, I have a book from London’s high-end Connaught Bar (expanding the beverage sub-category I started in 2016), food writer Ben Mims exploring cookies around the world for home bakers, Alexander Smalls showcasing chefs across Africa, and much more.
Anything else you would like to share?
In early 1999, shortly after graduating college mid-year, I was eager to learn as much as I could about the book publishing industry. My mother had been a longtime bookseller at both independent shops and Waldenbooks, so I was familiar with PW. I bought the current copy and at the time, every publisher had ads showcasing their imprints, bestsellers, and web sites (which were quite new!). I spent a couple weeks doing homework, looking up all the sites, getting a handle on what imprints focused on what types of books, and I started to wrap my head around it all. It’s a great full circle moment—as I approach my 25-year anniversary in book publishing and my decade milestone at Phaidon—that I have the opportunity to do this interview feature for PW.