The disquieting truth about chefs' cookbooks

Jamie Oliver

As this recent holiday season showed, cookbooks by chefs continue to pour out. In fact, Jamie Oliver's 15 Minute Meals topped the Christmas books lists in Great Britain, beating out The Hobbit. And Big Hospitality recently looked at what makes chefs so eager to take on an extra, usually not highly remunerative, project in Cooking the books: The dynamics and economics of the cookbook world for restaurants. (Among the reasons are the publicity, the chance for lightening to strike, the ability to sell the books through the restaurants, and the books' longevity.)

Given this context, a study reported by Mail Online, Celebrity recipe books which are too much for us to digest: More than 40% are never opened, may throw a damper on the industry. According to the Mail there are two types of celebrity chefs' cookbooks. There are the home cook friendly types - with familiar and not-too-expensive ingredients, easily understood instructions, and the lack of esoteric terms ("concasse"). Books by chefs that follow these traits  - personified by Jamie Oliver - are opened and used.

But, according to a survey by Italian food company Sacla taken in Brtain, non-user friendly cookbooks rarely see the light of day. In fact, they reported the following from their respondents:

  • 67 percent  said they found the recipes in many glossy cookbooks intimidating.
  • 27 percent said hard-to-find ingredients stopped them using the books.
  • The typical British home has 10 cookbooks, however the owners have only tried an average of four recipes from each.
  • People admitted that 40 percent of recipe books have never been used at all.

Two books were cited as perfectly illustrating this category: Gordon Ramsey's 3 Star Chef and Heston Blumenthal's In Search of Perfection.

And this did get us thinking - we wondered how many people who received either of Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine cookbooks have actually used them? These would surely fit in this latter category. If you have, let us know how you liked them.


  • FJT  on  1/15/2013 at 11:20 AM

    Had I paid the hefty price tag for Modernist Cuisine, I think I would want to use it every day!! But the point is valid - I recently started going through my cookbooks again and discovered that there were some that we'd received over the years as gifts that we'd never used. Working on putting that right!!

  • Pedro Fernandes  on  1/15/2013 at 12:05 PM

    There is a lot of truth in this article. Cookbooks need to individualise techniques for learners, Then learners can eran by themselves to combine them to reach their goals.

  • wester  on  1/15/2013 at 3:04 PM

    I think In Search of Perfection is not meant to cook from. I think you are meant to enjoy the stories and occasionally find a hint on how to improve your own cooking, not to follow the recipe. But yes, if I can't get my hands on yuzu juice, I don't think I will cook from the Nobu cookbook, for instance. And I am the kind of cook who will actually hunt for these ingredients.

  • Nic_Cooks  on  1/15/2013 at 5:20 PM

    I think the nature of this site means the readers will be the exception to this rule! I have 96 cook books and have cooked at least one recipe from each, including those glossy, coffee table books like Quay and Marque. I have about 30 favourite books which I have cooked many recipes from, including 2 Jamie Oliver books which I have cooked nearly every recipe from! I would hate for chefs to stop writing books because they thought people weren't cooking from them!

  • sisterspat  on  1/15/2013 at 10:18 PM

    I have over 250 cook books and love them all. I love reading them, looking at the beautiful pictures. I tackle the recipes I think my friends and family will enjoy, I am sure I will be very busy with recipes for many years. A good glass of wine and good food, what more can one ask for.

  • ellabee  on  1/16/2013 at 12:45 PM

    Don't worry, Nic_Cooks, the chef books will keep coming. It's a vanity operation.

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