Last week, Rodale released Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook: Eat Like You Give a F*ck, the first book by the once-anonymous duo behind the wildly popular Thug Kitchen blog.
At the end of September, an Epicurious profile revealed the pair's identity as Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway, a white man and woman from Southern California. The news sparked outrage, with some calling the book and its conceit an example of cultural appropriation. With protests announced for some tour stops, the authors then cancelled appearances at two Bay Area bookstores.
PW talked to Mary Ann Naples, senior v-p, publisher at Rodale, about the book, the backlash, and how the company has hounded the duo about getting started on a second project.
When you acquired the book, did you anticipate that there might be any backlash to the identity of the authors?
We think their work speaks for itself—Thug Kitchen's goal has always simply been to entertain [by] verbally abusing people into eating some goddamn vegetables. I think the Julia Child quote that begins the book says it best: “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” Rather than be precious about healthy eating, their goal was for readers to take control and be badasses in the kitchen. Their approach was so fresh and new and just so funny that we fell for it completely. And we're not alone--just one look at the sheer joy in the almost 9,000 posts on Instagram, of people making some great fucking food (that's also good for them) and you know that they are onto something.
How has the tour been, in general? What has the response from readers been like?
The tour has been really incredible. Matt and Michelle are thrilled to be on the road meeting their fans and they’re receiving a ton of love from packed houses. Powerhouse Arena in New York City, Flyleaf Books (with Root Cellar) in [Chapel Hill], N.C., and Powell’s have all had crowds of 125-180 people and sales between 100-125 copies (with many people buying multiple books). In each city, Matt and Michelle have been doing moderated discussions during which they talk about the book and also address questions about their reveal. Have there been a handful of voices who have come out against the book? Yes and we’re working closely with booksellers to make sure we’re all doing what’s best for the authors and the businesses. In the case of the Bay Area events, we felt it was best to hold off on their visit, but we’re receiving really positive feedback from upcoming venues such as Book People in Austin, Book Larder in Seattle, and Kitson in Los Angeles. In fact, we’re receiving more requests for events with them each day (from Arizona to Michigan to Alabama and more)!
Has your marketing for the title changed at all, now that the authors are no longer anonymous?
Not at all. The intention was always to “reveal” the authors. During the lead-up to publication our marketing and PR team employed creative ways to build buzz without the authors (like a Food Truck takeover during the Food Book Fair in Brooklyn, this past April; the hilarious book trailer that debuted in mid-September—has been viewed nearly 650,000 times!; and targeted pre-pub interviews; and working closely with the authors on seeding interest in the book across their social media channels). Meanwhile, we had also outlined a strategic plan that would include pre and post-reveal media placements and events through the fall and into the holiday season. It was important to Matt and Michelle that they connect with their readers and fans. But at the end of the day, it’s about the Thug Kitchen brand—Matt and Michelle will be the first to tell you that’s it’s not the “Matt & Michelle” show. When all is said and done, they want Thug Kitchen to stand on its own.
With the first book out in the world, how do you think the Thug Kitchen brand will evolve?
Matt and Michelle are looking at a number of exciting opportunities across diff forms of media and want to continue to expand on the great work they’ve done with the site and book--what form that will take next, is still to be determined. But there is no question that Rodale is looking forward to continuing our wonderful relationship and are already hounding them about “book two!” At the end of the day the goal is to continue showing people that healthy eating doesn't have to be expensive, complicated or boring. Matt and Michelle’s own personal experience was the motivation for all of this: Michelle spent years working in a grocery store where she couldn’t even afford the pricy exotic ingredients that were required to “eat healthy.” And Matt admits to coming to this from “frozen pizza-land.”They have been on this journey themselves and are excited to bring the message even wider.
*This article has been corrected. A previous version of this article listed Powerhouse Books as the site of a Thug Kitchen book tour stop. It was Powerhouse Arena.