All About Branding

Let's talk for a moment about "branding," a term one hears a great deal of in cookbook publishing these days.  Everybody does it: The TV chef who sells a line of cookware, the market gardener who starts a blog, the Barefoot Contessa, the Naked Chef, Chris Kimball with his bowtie.  Even me, with my cookbook-rating app.

"Branding," with respect to a personality makes sense somehow.  But in recent years something that's been happening more and more often is the branding of place.  (I'm setting aside the blog book and the TV tie-in for now - they deserve attention of their own.)

There's always been food establishments with the savvy to publish a book (in the case of a little catering storefront called The Silver Palate, the book became the tail that wagged the dog).  The more distinctive the establishment, the more powerful the book - e.g., the Moosewood cookbooks.  Today, though, it's everybody -  from the destination restaurant with the modernist kitchen to the bakery around the corner.

It used to be that you'd buy such a cookbook simply so you could reproduce the kind of food you found at the restaurant, at home.  But something else is at work now. What are some of the reasons we buy restaurant - and increasingly, bakery - cookbooks? 

  • Souvenirs - if you've come from far away and had something divine to eat at Tartine or Noma or Momofuku, chances are that half an hour after you walk out the door, your meal is nothing but a memory (and a line on your credit card statement).  If that morsel was a transformative experience - as food so often is- you might want something to remember it by.  
  • Curiosity - if there is little chance of your ever going to eat at El Bullí (and now that it's closed, that chance has dwindled to zero), you might want to partake just a little in the experience of a restaurant that changed the way people thought of food.
  • Inspiration - if you hear that somebody's working magic with vegetables, or burgers, or muffins, and you feel your own vegetable, burger, or muffin repertoire could use a little goosing?  That's a reason right there - especially if the book has a winning design.
  • Branding ourselves.   Celebrities aren't the only ones with branded identities.  We all think of ourselves that way sometimes.  For example, I'm not a cake pop person. This happens to be true - I'm a frosted-cookie person - and it's a way I brand myself to myself.  It causes me to keep every Julia Usher book I see, even though they are full of overlapping recipes, and give away all the books with "pop" in the title.  If you catch yourself saying I'm a salad person or I'm not a dessert kind of person or I'm the grillmeister in this family!, that's self-branding, and it has an effect on what you like in cookbooks. 

None of this is to disparage branding, though I dare say none of us wants our kitchen, or our bookshelf, to look like the pace car at the Indy 500.  Maybe we all long for a more perfect vision of our lives, and that's what a branded cookbook is: a perfected vision. But in real life, I suspect, we're good enough - possibly even better than we think.  And maybe a little imperfection could be just what we need.


  • Christine  on  4/2/2013 at 2:25 PM

    I had never thought about the concept of "branding ourselves" with our cookbook choices, but it is so true! Looking at my shelves, I have clearly branded myself a multitude of things including: (first and foremost) a chocolate-person, a baking-person, a vegetable-person, a seasonal/organic/attempting-to-cook-healthy person, a slow-cooking-person, a simple/quick/everyday-cooking-person, a DIY-person, and a giver-of-food-gifts-person. I also love picking up cookbooks as souvenirs. Every time I see the cookbooks I bought in Scotland, I'm reminded of the trip I took there and all the delicious food I ate. I am looking forward to adding to this part of my collection the most!

  • tsusan  on  4/3/2013 at 9:55 AM

    Sounds like my shelves! I find the DIY-person and the quick-everyday-cooking person don't always get along, at least when they're the same person!

  • Christine  on  4/3/2013 at 10:37 AM

    My quick-everyday-cooking side usually comes out Monday-Friday and the DIY/likes-to-experiment side usually comes out on the weekends -- or when I'm feeling particularly ambitious!

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