Two of the biggest cookbooks of 2018, Magnolia Table and Whiskey in a Teacup, put entertaining front and center. And though their successes were due in no small part to the celebrity wattage of their respective authors—HGTV powerhouse Joanna Gaines and actor and producer Reese Witherspoon—there’s little doubt that cookbooks focused on bringing people together remain popular.
Such titles, authors and publishers say, speak to a real need in the modern era. “In a digital world, there’s something truly special about gathering in real life,” says Will Schwalbe, senior v-p of editorial development and content innovation at Macmillan. “I’m surrounded by people, myself included, who tend to answer the question, ‘How are you?’ with one word: ‘Busy.’ ”
But, Schwalbe adds, there’s been a backlash against that attitude. “Thank goodness people want to see one another and mark the occasion with food and drink.”
The cookbook and cocktail book authors PW spoke with agree: as people increasingly live their lives online, gathering to break bread (or clink glasses) with family and friends is more essential than ever.
Wisdom of the Crowd
Actor and chef David Burtka says he never imagined he would write a book, but the more he posted photos on Instagram of the meals he prepared and the parties he threw, the more responses he got from his nearly 450,000 followers soliciting advice and recipes. “People were asking how I’m able to get my kids to eat such different foods and where I draw inspiration for parties from,” he says. “Writing a book became a logical next step.”
The result: Life Is a Party (Grand Central, Apr.), Burtka’s guide to throwing soirees during every season, whether fancy summer barbecues or winter game nights. Photos and headnotes prominently feature Burtka’s husband—actor Neil Patrick Harris—as well as their two children and friends.
Though he’s a Cordon Bleu graduate and former co-owner of a Los Angeles catering company, Burtka found writing his first cookbook challenging, in part because he had little experience developing recipes. “I had no idea how much time and effort it was to put together a cookbook,” he says. “Testing the recipes was fun; I loved that part. I gained 20 pounds and frequently heard my kids say, ‘Lemon sole, again?’ ”
Burtka’s experience feeding crowds, he says, informs both the way he cooks for family and friends and the central message he hopes to send to readers. “Throwing parties professionally, the biggest lesson was that no matter what went wrong, I always came out to my guests with a smile. I never let my clients know if there was an issue.”
In the decade since its founding, Tasting Table, a digital media company devoted to food and drink, has amassed more than three million followers on social media and two million e-mail subscribers who turn to the site for recipes and approachable cooking tips. In the brand’s first cookbook, Tasting Table Cooking with Friends (Flatiron, May), cofounder and CEO Geoff Bartakovics and creative director and editor-at-large Todd Coleman show readers how to carve out time for entertaining in an increasingly hectic world.
“Todd and I didn’t want to publish a cookbook unless it could solve a modern problem,” Bartakovics says. “In my own life, I’ve been finding it difficult to spend quality time with old friends, let alone get to know new ones.”
The authors’ fix, given limited schedules and budgets, is a cookbook that teaches people to cook together with their guests, “so that we can all entertain more often with people we want to spend time with,” Bartakovics says. Menus for Friendsgiving, a backyard shrimp boil, and other gatherings feature shopping and equipment lists and instructions to be divided among sous chefs.
Crowdsourcing dinner prep is a no-brainer, Bartakovics says, noting that these days, everyone is a foodie to some degree. “Even the average Joe knows the difference between iceberg and romaine, has an opinion about truffle oil, and can name several grape varietals. Dinner parties of yore were about showing off your wedding gifts or meeting social obligations. Guests today have more expectation that good food and drink will be served, but they’re also more capable of helping than ever before.”
When in Rome—and Elsewhere
Several forthcoming books take the party global, with guides to entertaining buoyed by a sense of place.
Stacy Adimando, executive editor at Saveur, was inspired by her travels to write Piatti (Chronicle, May). Italian hospitality, she says, expanded her idea of what hosting could be. “Why are we as Americans so limited in what we put out for guests? It’s always the same few things, like cheese and crackers, and olives, or chips and dip.” After spending time in Italy, she adds, “I felt increasingly compelled to share how much more stunning and exciting antipasti-style food could be.”
Piatti suggests starters and platters designed to be shared—roasted cherries, clam pizza, squash blossom fritters—and details the building blocks of antipasti and the essentials of a well-stocked pantry.
When it comes to embodying the Italian host, Adimando says, excess is key. “The first thing that comes to mind is serving too much food, but it’s not a stereotype! That instinct really speaks to the generosity of the culture overall. Italians know how to make you feel welcome, loved, and at home.”
Food writer Elizabeth Minchilli, an American who lives in Rome, agrees. An Italian celebration is “all about creating a warm and inviting setting coupled with good food and drink,” says Minchilli, who has written several books on Italy’s culinary culture. Her next, The Italian Table (Rizzoli, Mar.), imagines dreamlike party scenes (lunch in a Renaissance garden, a table by the sea in Positano) and details how to recreate such gatherings at home, with table setting suggestions and tips on how to stretch or simplify the party.
But if there’s one city that’s synonymous with hospitality, it’s the one whose motto is, “Laissez les bons temps rouler.” “Pretty much everything in New Orleans is a celebration,” says Julia Reed, a contributing editor at Garden & Gun and Elle Decor, pointing to Mardi Gras, jazz funerals, and “gumbo weather, the time of year when it’s finally cool enough to stand over a pot and stir.”
In her latest book, Julia Reed’s New Orleans (Rizzoli, May), Reed invites readers to join the party in her adopted hometown. “People are always asking folks over for parade parties or Saints game parties, to crawfish boils or oyster roasts, and it’s often very impromptu,” she says. “There’s a deep-seated sense of festivity and generosity of spirit that abounds.”
One of Reed’s favorite gatherings to host is a Mardi Gras brunch, to help revelers recover after a big night out. “To cure all those aching heads, I love to cook up a big spread of grillades and cheese grits and offer people a delicious milk punch beforehand,” says Reed, who counts the three recipes, included in the book, “firmly among the city’s signatures.”
In contrast to the anything-goes style of New Orleans, Pacific Natural (Rizzoli, Mar.) draws upon the laid-back elegance of author Jenni Kayne’s home state. “I am constantly inspired by the beauty of California and the lifestyle that goes along with living here,” says Kayne, who showcases recipes, as well as her minimalistic clothing line and home decor, on her 166,000-follower-strong Instagram feed.
Pacific Natural offers menus for seasonal gatherings, each capped with a coordinating and seasonally appropriate parting gift: a citronella candle for a summer beach picnic, or apple butter after a fall harvest party.
When Houghton Mifflin Harcourt executive editor Justin Schwartz contacted Marcela Valladolid, former host of the Food Network’s Mexican Made Easy, about writing an entertaining-focused cookbook, Valladolid was immediately on board. “It’s what makes me the happiest,” she says. “To make beautiful things for the people I love, and to fill my home with love and laughter and music and food and people.”
In Fiestas (HMH, Apr.), Valladolid, who lives in her native San Diego, Calif., brings together crowd-pleasing recipes influenced by her Mexican-American upbringing (chickpea ceviche tostadas, mini guava flans with salted caramel), but it was the chance to do cocktail recipes that especially appealed to her and her publisher. “So many books with cocktails have an overly masculine feel to them, with dark colors and hard textures,” Schwartz says. “But retailers repeatedly told us they were looking for something with more vibrance.”
Fiesta’s colorful concoctions include watermelon frosé and pineapple-turmeric margaritas. “There are some killer cocktail books out there; I just want more that float pansies in the drinks,” Valladolid says. “So I wrote one.”
Floating blossoms—not to mention elaborately carved fruit, mini paper parasols, and things on fire—are hallmarks of tiki cocktails, and tiki culture, a staple of mid-century revelry, has been enjoying a resurgence for some time. “Tiki and tropical cocktails remind you of being on holiday,” says Georgi Radev, whose latest London tiki venture is Laki Kane in Islington. “Everyone wants that feeling.”
In Let’s Get Tropical (DK, May), Radev serves up more than 60 recipes and provides a brief history of each drink. “Every bar, or host for that matter, should have their own unique cocktails that represent them,” Radev says. “They need cocktails that they are both proud of and that are party starters.” He believes there’s no one perfect tropical party drink—his favorites include the Zombie, the Mai Tai, and the Singapore Sling—and that sentiment speaks to the freewheeling tiki spirit.
“Of all the cocktail genres, tiki is the most fun, hands down,” says Shannon Mustipher, author of Tiki (Rizzoli, Mar.). “The decor, the unusual combination of ingredients, the overall tropical vibe all point to a place where your worries fade away.” Mustipher, the beverage director at Glady’s, a Caribbean restaurant in Brooklyn, credits tiki’s modern popularity to bartenders and drinkers eschewing “buttoned-up” mixology for more casual experiences, and to the increased availability of high-quality spirits.
When it comes to entertaining, Mustipher’s motto is, “Simple is best, batched is better.” She recommends the Parasol, a daiquiri riff that blends aged white rum, pineapple juice, banana liqueur, and lime. “It’s bright and floral with a hint of savory, and easy to make as a single-serve or scale up to a punch.”
Ease of preparation is also on the mind of L.A. bartender Christiaan Röllich, who in the PW-starred Bar Chef (Norton, Apr.), which he wrote with Carolynn Carreño, aims to help amateurs make cocktails at home without fear. “Cocktails are supposed to be fun, not intimidating,” Röllich says. “My philosophy is that if you can bake a cake from the back of a flour package, you can make your own margarita mix.”
For his own parties, Röllich keeps things simple. “I have liquor on the bar, cold Heinekens in the fridge, and red wine on the table,” he says. “I’m also a big fan of punches, or batched cocktails.”
Count food and drink writer Maggie Hoffman (The One-Bottle Cocktail) among the fans of large-format drinks. With all the other duties of a host, she says, it made sense to devote her second book, Batch Cocktails (Ten Speed, Mar.), to those tailor-made for serving a crowd. “Everyone—including me—is happier when the drinks can be made by the batch, not one by one.”
Among the scaled-up recipes in the book, which received a starred PW review, are the Tongue in Cheek, which consists of gin, Meyer lemon, thyme, and Cocchi Rosa; and the Birds & Bees Punch, made from rum, cucumber, green tea, and lemon.
“I love to be prepared, unhurried,” Hoffman says. “It’s so much fun to greet your guests with a signature drink and get to sit down with them to share it, to catch up—to really connect.”
Below, more on the subject of cookbooks.
Hosting Help: New Cooking and Cocktail Books for 2019
Five authors share their dos and don’ts for entertaining.
Entrée-preneurial Spirit: New Cooking and Cocktail Books for 2019
‘We are La Cocina’ celebrates the ingenuity and hospitality of chefs involved with a small-business incubator in San Francisco.
In the Pink: New Cooking and Cocktail Books for 2019
Here’s a peek at a pair of titles offering a toast to rosé.
Kith and Kitchen: PW Talks with Kwame Onwuachi
The author of the debut memoir ‘Notes from a Young Black Chef’ shares his cultural influences in his book and through his cooking.
Food for Thought: New Cooking and Cocktail Books for 2019
We look at a dozen culinary narratives from the forthcoming spring and summer menu.