Does it matter how we use our cookbooks?

Tim Hayward and Yotam Ottolenghi

Last week we posted about Prue Leith's disappointment with modern cookbooks. She was dismissive of books that she believe contained gorgeous photographs at the expense of quality recipes. Cookbook authors Yotam Ottolenghi and Tim Hayward have now weighed in with their thoughts on the controversy

Both authors agreed with Leith up to a point, with Hayward noting that a modern food book is "a beautiful object, not just a collection of recipes but something we buy to express our image of ourselves. It's the same reason we'd consume a popular novel or music album or buy a well-designed pair of shoes." But that doesn't mean that cookbooks aren't used or aren't valuable, he explains. It's just that they can be used differently, and that consumers want something different than what they had in the past.  

Ottolenghi concurs, saying food writers "are here to supply a certain demand, and what we sell is, indeed, a "lifestyle thing". There is no need to portray it as anything else, and it doesn't really help to hanker for a bygone era in cookery writing or feel guilty that we produce beautiful, popular books." But he disagrees that people aren't using new cookbooks. "They may not cook from all of them...but there are certain books, illustrated and beautiful (the original River Cafe series, for example) that we will always go back to, no matter how many more shiny spines are there alongside them on the bookshelves."

Hayward further wonders "whether we're selling our trade short by evaluating books so purely through recipes." He believes that food writing is, and should be, evolving into something more than just a collection of recipes. He believes many current books are too formulaic, and that "there's no space allowed for contextualising narrative." He further notes that it "seems bonkers to take a moral stance on how [cookbooks] should be enjoyed...Whether or not you actually cook from them, I'm proud that we produce beautiful books, and honoured that people want to buy them."

1 Comment

  • Analyze  on  8/25/2015 at 5:02 PM

    It seems to me that there are a vast array of types of cooks and people's approaches to their cookbooks, just as there are many types of personalities. Some people use cookbooks for inspiration and some use them literally. Some people must have photos. We probably all like photos, but to what degree they are necessary is variable. We all like reliable recipes, but that again is on a spectrum from slightly imperfect to hardly tested.

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