Are cookbooks all style over substance?August 19, 2015 by Darcie
Today I spent several hours organizing my cookbooks, consolidating them all into the same room for the first time in years. As I gaze upon my favorite tomes, I am excited all over again to cook from them. That’s why I was a bit put off by a column in The Telegraph, where Prue Leith dismisses new cookbooks, saying that they are more suited to the coffee table than the kitchen. (A similar article also appeared in The Guardian.)
Cookbooks focus more on beautiful food photography than on creating good recipes, Leith says. “Now the look of the book dictates the sale. In my day you could still buy a good cookbook in paperback with no pictures at all. I doubt if that would sell today. But those books were much used: they lived in the kitchen and got splattered with custard and gravy. Today, if we cook, we google it. New cookbooks lie on the coffee table and we drool over Tuscan landscapes and rustic bread ovens. Before ordering in a pizza,” writes Leith in the Radio Times.
Leith also laments the rise of the celebrity cookbook author, noting that many chefs become popular on television before they even write their first cookbook. “Jamie Oliver did the same trick at the end of the 1990s, with his Naked Chef (again, telly plus book), pulling in a whole new audience who saw him as a kind of rock star rather than a cook.” Leith counts Gordon Ramsay, Tom Kerridge, and Yotam Ottolenghi as examples of this trend. But Leith has high praise for Mary Berry, because she wrote many cookbooks prior to her popularity on the Great British Bake Off.
Glancing in my newer cookbooks I do count plenty of gorgeous photos. But I don’t see it as a detriment but rather as an inspiration–and sometimes, a guide as to what the finished dish should look like. This is especially important when making something for the first time. While I have a couple of cookbooks that are used infrequently – Alinea comes to mind – I don’t just ooh and ahh over the photos in my books. I still find the recipes important and make use of them. How about you? Do you agree with Leith that new cookbooks are better suited for the coffee table than the kitchen?
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