Forty years ago, Lisa Ekus left her position as senior publicist at Crown Publishing to head to Hatfield, Mass., a town about six miles northeast of Northampton, to open the Lisa Ekus Public Relations Co. It would eventually become the Lisa Ekus Group, working exclusively with those involved with cookbooks and culinary pursuits. Businesses owned and run by a woman were a rarity at the time, but Ekus prevailed, and in April, her daughter, Sally Ekus, a full partner for 12 years, took the company helm. Accordingly, the company also has a new name, changing from the Lisa Ekus Group to simply the Ekus Group.

From the beginning, the Lisa Ekus Group provided services beyond a typical book publicity firm by offering media training for cookbook authors and chefs set to appear on everything from Good Morning Cleveland to the Today show. The debut of the Food Network was still a decade away, and only devout foodies would call anyone a “celebrity chef” at the time, but some of those whom Lisa trained did indeed achieve such status. Among them are Padma Lakshmi, Steven Raichlen, Charlie Trotter, and Norman Van Aiken. As the company’s focus on media training and agenting grew, public relations took a back seat in its roster of services, prompting its first name change. (Agenting is now the biggest part of the business.)

“We have navigated well and intelligently the changes in the publishing industry,” Lisa said. The quick growth of e-book sales didn’t have much impact on the company, since Lisa was specializing in cookbooks at the time, a category where print still reigns. “Cookbooks are usually four-color, highly produced, beautiful packages,” she added, noting that even as e-books have improved, many people still want physical copies of cookbooks.

It also turns out that cooking the recipes from a cookbook is just one of the reasons people purchase them. “On average, only three recipes from a book are used,” Sally said. “Clearly people are buying cookbooks for other reasons.” Among those is that cookbooks include all kinds of background information about their respective cuisines, the cultures from which they hail, and the chefs behind them, as well as other entertaining anecdotes. Another cookbook attraction for readers is the carefully styled and shot photographs. Plus, Sally added, a cookbook makes an ideal gift.

The past two years have been a boon for cookbooks, with the pandemic forcing more people to eat at home. But while the e-book may not be a formidable foe to cookbooks, what about the ability to get a recipe for just about anything on a smartphone? The problem with online recipes, according to Lisa, is credibility: “Who created the recipe? Has it been tested?” She admits that online resources such as New York Times Cooking are highly reputable, but notes that while the Times does a great job, its app and online recipes “have only been around for the last few years.”

The Ekus Group has always served as agents for authors and illustrators of a variety of cookbooks, representing an array of cultures, cuisines, and eating habits. Now, regional and global cuisines are extremely popular, partly because of the wide availability of formerly esoteric ingredients such as cilantro and fish sauce, which were practically unheard of years ago. Deep dives into hyperlocal cultures are not always easily found online.

Sadly, Lisa said, another reason for the fascination with international cuisines is conflict and war. “People become aware of a place and a culture,” she explained. “And what is the entry point into a culture or country? It’s food.” She noted that the Gulf Wars brought Middle Eastern food to the forefront, and that cookbooks featuring Ukrainian fare are already hitting the market.

Lisa has always sought chefs who strive to introduce people to new tastes—a tradition the younger Ekus is eager to embrace. “What I love about what we do is that we’ve always been an agency that’s dedicated to firsts—first-time authors, origin stories, traceable cuisines,” Sally said. “We don’t just promote firsts, we celebrate them.”

Books by authors whom the Ekus Group has represented include the 2020 James Beard Award–winning Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking by Toni Tipton Martin and the bestseller Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling. On deck for this year are Frankie Gaw’s First Generation: Recipes from My Taiwanese-America Home and Brian Noyes’s second cookbook, The Red Truck Bakery Farmhouse Cookbook: Sweet and Savory Comfort Food from America’s Favorite Rural Bakery.