I know I have said to all my friends, family and clients that I would never write a cookbook or anything else, and believe me I went into this venture tenderly. The point is, after being in the food business for nearly 20 years I do have things to say about cookbooks and cooking. This blog is a great way to do it.
First a little history about me. I have been cooking for a long time. I am not one of those people who can look into the refrigerator and say “hum, what can I make for dinner tonight” and whip up a gourmet meal. I am definitely a recipe driven person. I like cooking from a recipe, testing it first and then perhaps experimenting with it to make it my own.
I started collecting cookbooks when I was in college in the 70’s. Like most people who cook from cookbooks, I learned that I must be doing loads of things wrong, because a number of recipes that I tried did not work out well, not well at all! I thought this was a direct reflection of my abilities or lack of. Some books were very reliable of course, such as Julia Child’s books, but others were less easy to use or understand. I must not have been paying attention in college, because I was not able to figure out what the difference was between a good cookbook and a bad cookbook. I eventually discovered the author was the key to that equation and they had to be a detailed person who tested their recipes for the general audience. Not all authors do that.
It was not until I was in my 30’s that I really understood the difference between well and badly written cookbooks. I began to look for new cookbooks from authors that I trusted. I never guessed that one day I would have a company that featured and tested cookbooks.
Post college, post marriage, single I found myself in Boston, and too busy to cook. I needed to be a super woman, like the rest of my generation. I had an interesting intense job that gobbled up 14 hours of my day. Ordering in lunch and eating Lean Cuisine for dinner was my standard fare.
Then I met Brian (husband). Low and behold he was a cookbook fan too (actually he is a book freak all together). Although not in the food business he had a very impressive cookbook collection.
Brian was a single man with two terrific adolescent kids, who were embarking for college. Our favorite date was to cook for each other.
The food was good. The dating was whirlwind. Six months after we first met, we were married on Cape Cod at my best friend Odessa’s house not far from the Ocean. I should have known then that a food career was definitely in our future. Our wedding featured a wonderful caterer and we had a blast creating our very special wedding.
Brian and I had met in Boston, but moved to New York City in 1987. I was returning home, Brian, an Oregon native was looking to relocate and was smitten with tall buildings. Neither of us had a New York network of friends.
We bought a terrific loft in then quiet Tribeca, our space has an enormously large kitchen and living room built for forty. The large living room already had bookshelves for our cookbook collection. Brian and I loved cooking together, but really wanted to meet other people and make new friends. One day an idea just sprang up: cooking by the book.
We would choose a cookbook from our collection and select five recipes that would make a nice dinner party. We typed up a recipe package and mailed it off (this was pre-email!) to a handful of people who we knew but who did not know each other. Our invitation was simple: if you want to join us for this dinner party, you bring the ingredients for one of the recipes and we will all cook together. People got the packages, they began inviting some of their friends and things just grew. We certainly had the kitchen space for a nice crowd. This might sound like a potential organizational mess, but I had that covered too. My degree from the University of Buffalo was in education and spent several years teaching so making lesson plans was a piece of cake (no pun intended).
We held these events about one a month and the list of interested participants continued to grow. Brian the computer geek compiled a data base we used to invite more and more people to these events. One day we realized that we had the beginning of nice company. Cooking by the Book, the business, began.
Our first clients shared our interest in cookbooks.
So, I began to meet local cookbook authors, featuring their cookbooks for selected events. The authors would come to watch the events and after dinner would sign their cookbooks. It was a win win situation, I would have a noted author at Cooking by the Book, and the author would have a venue to sell books.
That, in a nutshell (another pun) is how we started Cooking by the Book. After several years of hosting these events we were asked to be the primary test kitchen for the 1997 revision of the Joy of Cooking. With that start, we’ve served as the test kitchen for other cookbooks, we have worked on recipe development for organizations, and, most recently, we were the exclusive test kitchen for the 2006 edition of the 75th Anniversary of the Joy of Cooking. We spent many months testing the recipes of this landmark edition.
With that wealth of experience, we truly are a cookbook driven company and recommending cookbooks is simply our nature. My blogs will primarily review cookbooks. I might stick in some cooking tips, advise, recommendations, favorite links, or what ever I think about. I will review new cookbooks and some not so new, but valuable none the less.
First let me explain what elements I look for in a cookbook.
I look at cookbooks to see if they are:
Readable: is the book interesting, does the author have story and is the story fun to read.
Creative: are the recipes inventive and different.
Organized: is the book laid out in an organized fashion, can I find the recipes easily in the index.
Informative: will I learn something new from this book.
Inspirational: will I want to cook from this book, will I be inspired to be creative.
Eventable: Cooking by the Book is all about team building. Recipes are selected for our events based on their capability to facilitate team work. I know eventable is not a real word, but in Cooking by the Books world it is.