Celebrity chefs still the publishers' bread and butter
Saturday November 14, 2009
EAT before you shop: this is the advice often served up to supermarket shoppers who tend to spend too much at the checkout because they are hungry. It could also be good advice for those headed to a bookshop.The most prominent displays on bookshop shelves are already filled with the latest cookbooks as retailers prepare for the pre-Christmas sales bonanza.Publishers have reported an explosion in demand for cookbooks over the past five years, with research showing a 23 per cent surge in sales of food and drink titles last year alone."Fiction aside, food and drink is by far the biggest category in bookstores," Scott White, of Murdoch Books, says. And much of the sector's success is tied to the rise and rise of the celebrity chef and their foodie followers."The success of cookbooks in recent years has rested on the celebrity chef and the celebrity restaurant," Mr White says. "We call it food porn in the industry."It's not simply a matter of cookbooks being pretty and sitting on the shelves, people are engaging with them more than they ever have before."But booksellers say there is an equal demand for cookbooks that include recipes with little preparation time and few ingredients. "There's a move away from the very fancy, elaborate cookbooks that were popular a few years ago €” you know, recipes with 17 different ingredients," Reader's Feast cookbook buyer Bernadette Levacic says. "People are looking for things that are a bit more practical."Television chef Iain Hewitson says his latest cookbook focuses on easily explained steps and recipes for this reason. "I got irritated when I heard this chef on the radio say that to cook well you need a long amount of training and a touch of genius, and I think that's the biggest load of bullshit I have ever heard."Publishers keep a careful eye on trends in the sector. Retailers are reporting that the cup-cake cookbook craze is finally, albeit slowly, coming to an end and cookbooks for slow cookers have exploded in popularity. There is also a pronounced trend towards cooking with food grown in backyards.Unsurprisingly, the demand has been unwavering for celebrity-written titles. "People are interested to know the personality of the chef and if they can cook similar things. They want to go to their restaurants and experience their food," Fiona Schultz, of New Holland Publishers, says. "I think MasterChef has contributed a lot to that."Stephanie Alexander was one of the first to tap into the cooking from backyard produce theme with Kitchen Garden Companion. It has been a top-seller since its release.Chef Frank Camorra's new companion book, Movida Rustica, is also expected to be as popular as the first, the award-winning Movida.Celebrity chef Peter Howard (pictured), who has written 16 cookbooks since 1983, says often they become a way of keeping chefs' profiles alive. "If you have always got a book out, you have got something on the shelf and your name is there," he says.Howard has written six books on barbecuing, with the latest released this week. He says, like many other chefs, he likes to focus on new approaches to cooking."People are taking themes and running with them €” it certainly makes for better reading for your audience."He says one of the great pleasures he gets from writing comes when a reader arrives at a book-signing with a food-stained copy. He knows then they are using and enjoying his work.This might be the exception, however. If a much-repeated but untested statistic from the publishers is to be believed, cookbooks end up far from distressed €” for each cookbook sold, only two dishes will be tested from their many pages.