Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Cooking the Books: Independent Publishers Are Keeping the Art of Food Writing Alive, Writes Nicholas Clee

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Cooking the Books: Independent Publishers Are Keeping the Art of Food Writing Alive, Writes Nicholas Clee

Article excerpt

Cultural doomsayers like to argue that the domination of publishing by large corporations, and of bookselling by mass-market retailers, has dumbed down literary production. The case is dubious in general, but it does have some application to cookbooks.

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What the big publishers largely produce is souvenirs: souvenirs of television programmes; souvenirs of the restaurants of celebrity chefs; souvenirs of idyllic retreats in the Perigord or Umbria. Or, from the illustrated houses, there are the themed recipe collections, designed for international markets and with titles such as Tapas! or The Big Book of Barbecues.

The allure of these books soon fades. They sit on coffee tables or kitchen shelves for a while, and then their owners, who have usually received them as gifts, banish them to keep company with other rarely consulted volumes.

Food writing, of the kind that discusses food as part of ordinary people's lives and that is intended to be of more than ephemeral interest, is more often to be found at smaller publishers. Two of the outstanding lists are Grub Street and Prospect Books.

The Grub Street list is run by Anne Dolamore, a past chair of the Guild of Food Writers; and food writing, in the Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson tradition, is what she champions. Books such as Lebanese Cuisine by Anissa Helou, Sicilian Food By Mary Taylor Simeti and Catalan Cuisine by Colman Andrews are cultural surveys as well as collections of recipes. …

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