cook books

Tina, over at Recommended, posted this on her blog also. I was a guest for a day there. She's also renting me a bit of room on her blog. She's such a nice woman!

I read an interesting article today on the bus while riding into work. The article concerned cook books and, oddly enough, it was in Smart Money. Not a magazine typically associated with cooking--unless we're talking accounting and cooked books.

Amusingly enough, the writer, Neil Parmar, was aware of the cognitive dissonance and named the article just that, Cooked Books. The article is in the August issue which unfortunately isn't available online yet so there's no link to it. Sorry!

The gist of the article is that many of the popular cookbooks coming out these days are by so-called celebrity chefs, who often aren't famous for long, and that the publishing companies have a strong incentive to get the books out on the shelves before the chef's popularity wanes. As a result, there's very little in the way of testing the recipes or proofing the book itself. Chefs mentioned in the article are Sara Moulton, Emiril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Nigella Lawson, Tyler Florence, and even the lovely Rachael Ray.

The worst case mentioned in the article was a book that was entirely written by a ghost writer with the celebrity chef not contributing anything other than the name on the cover. More typical is the recipes being written by the celebrity chef but only tested by the chef once or twice, and then a recipe tester will replicate it once--and that's all. Contrast that with a traditional cookbook which will have recipes tested 30 times or more. Of course that testing takes time and money. Most publishers require the chef to shoulder the expense of testing the recipes. According to Mario Batali, he pays a recipe tester $200 for each recipe. With potentially dozens or more recipes per book that can get expensive.

And time is a big issue for celebrity chefs. Rachel Ray has 11 cookbooks published in the past 7 years; Batali has 5 cookbooks in the past 6 years. There's simply not enough time for extensive testing. The newest edition of The Betty Crocker Cookbook took 2 years to test their recipes before moving into their publishing phase. Obviously celebrity chefs can't do that if they're going to put out a book every year.

As a result there's a lot of mistakes that don't get caught. Some are typos on the chef side, some on the publishers side. There's also procedural mistakes. The chefs use professional equipment that often works faster than normal home pots, pans, ovens etc. So cooking times can be very inaccurate. Another problem is that the chefs often leave out steps that seem obvious to them--but aren't at all obvious to the typical person at home whose only experience is watching some Food Network Shows (yes, I mean me!). These problems generally don't occur in the traditional cookbooks like Betty Crocker or The Joy of Cooking since they've been tested over and over and all the wrinkles are gone.

So where should you get your recipes? According to this article the best places are traditional books like the ones I just mentioned, compilations of newspaper and magazine recipes (which test more carefully due to the immediacy of complaints if mistakes have been made) and books coming from culinary institutes like CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and New England Culinary Institute. These organizations train chefs, so they're very aware of how to write clear concise instructions, and run restaurants for the chefs in training to work in--so these recipes will have been tested dozens of times at the very least.


Michelle said…
Love the new banner Dave :o)
Looks fab in Opera!
Ivy said…
I love cookbooks. Most of mine are traditional cook books tried and true.. You know the one your grand mother hands down to you.. Those kind.. Ive got tons of them. I love the food network but have tried recipes out of cook books like that and only had htem flop.. :( big dissappointment..
ayen1216 said…
i love cookbooks as well and i have tons of them. however i still prefer checking recipes online (like, where people who tried the recipes leave comments and they rate the meal as well.

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