Ever Thought of Writing a Book Chef?

Why Top Chefs Should Publish A Book – by Cat Black

“The book has allowed me to have my DNA laid on to paper and gets my message, my beliefs, philosophies and ideas down.”-  Sat Bains

The world’s top chefs are creatives at the very top of their profession, a profession that sits alongside the fine arts in attracting individuals whose public revere them, want to know more about them, want to keep something of their work. Work that is otherwise gloriously but frustratingly ephemeral. A book is something that can address this. It can fill the gap when that last delectable mouthful has been eaten. It can stand as a creative medium in it’s own right, another outlet for creative expression, and as an insight into the creativity of the chef, to keep them in our minds until the next longed-for meal and beyond.

Sex and drugs spread“My book is a document of everything I’ve done so far. I can now move on to the next chapter or die.” Graham Garrett – The West House (Sex & Drugs & Sausage Rolls – FACE publications)

The transitory nature of even the most painstakingly built dish makes fine cooking a particularly committed act of creative expression. Each plate is lovingly devised and plated, only to be demolished in minutes. The hard graft involved – the hours, the fire and knives – are tolerable only to those obsessed. And it is a fine obsession, one for which I am eternally grateful. But a passionately creative individual cannot but long to establish something with permanence. A legacy to bring people towards their work, and a legacy to leave behind. And top chefs are nothing if not passionately creative individuals.

“Chefs need to write books to leave a trace of their work.” Edouard Cointreau –Gourmand World Cookbook Awards

This is where a book comes in. Books that share the recipes, share the magic, feed curiosity about their creator, increase interest and insight into their world, and keep it all alive. For those who haven’t been lucky enough to go to the restaurant, encountering an unknown chef’s book can bring them to your attention, add them to your wish list.

Thanks to the digital revolution the publishing industry has both taken a battering – with so much free content out there – and gone through something of a renaissance. It has had to reinvent. What that means is that there are now far more options for publishing books than there were. The conventional publishing model would commission a book, or accept an initial proposal from a chef, and then bring their writing, editing, photography, design, marketing and distribution skills to bear on it. The publisher is in control of the operation, and they bear the cost, so books frequently conform to a house style, and need to achieve what the publisher wants. This option is of course desirable in that the author bears none of the cost, but it is increasingly rare. The amount of books published has diminished considerably, as the risks involved for the publisher are ever higher. The public is buying fewer books, turning to free internet content in droves. And online recipes led the way in this.

With the glut of free content out there, there is a trend in successful book production, and that is to make something unique and precious in feel. The book that is more than just a collection of recipes – the book that has an interesting story and is a tactile and desirable physical object – that book still feels worth buying, worth having and holding. Exactly the kind of book that can result from the sensitive portrayal of the life and food of a top chef.

Sat-bains-too-many-chiefs-only-one-indian-4“In this era where a book can be conceived and written in a matter of weeks, we knew this was going to a long process, and that’s only because we wanted something that would hopefully become timeless. I think we ended up with something absolutely beautiful that surpassed all my expectations.” Sat Bains (Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian – FACE Publications).

We have all seen books that disappoint, that look, feel, read like every other book, like the accompanying list of recipes to a TV show. Useful, maybe, a brand-building, food hero creating, legacy-leaving tome of beauty? No.

Self-publishing is of course now an option, and has lost much of the stigma of vanity publishing it previously held. In theory self-publishing gives the author total control. But it also means that the author has to be writer/designer/ photographer/distributor, and a whole host of other roles besides. It is a way of taking control, but it is also risky. The author bears the whole cost, and will need to be master of many more things than just telling their story. And as a writer I have to add that to tell a story is not the same as having one to tell.

There are, happily, a new breed of publishers. A breed more interested in sharing the process, in collaboration, both financially and creatively, in bringing their flair and expertise to bear on the process.

“This was a real journey of self discovery and ultimately was a collaboration, where 2 sets of skills were bought together to produce something truly unique.” – Sat Bains

The finest, most iconic books are made when the creative flair and personality of the chef is sensitively rendered in book form. The reason that White Heat is so great, is because Bob Carlos Clarke truly understood who Marco Pierre White was, and what he did, and captured it brilliantly. It is the true collaboration between the creators of a book and the creative it is portraying that generates real potential for a great book. Anthony Hodgson of FACE Publications, whose chefs books have won countless awards, most recently the Gourmand award for the best designed book in the last twenty years for his book with Sat Bains, – in other words the entire history of the awards – aims to do this.

Sex and Drugs cover“Working with FACE was brilliant. I already had ideas and people I wanted to work with, Anthony was the last piece of the jigsaw that made everything happen. An amazing partnership. The thought and effort that went into every single part of the process from the writing, photography and design was truly amazing. I think we’ve achieved exactly what we set out to do by creating something different from the norm. Something that we can all be very proud of.” – Graham Garrett

What a publisher like FACE does, is to work closely with a chef to create the book they want to create, but might not have had the vision to imagine in its entirety. I know how such a project can work, as I was part of the team on FACE’s most recent book, Sex & Drugs & Sausage Rolls, the autobiography and recipe book of Michelin starred chef Graham Garrett. As the writer on the project, whose task was to bring Graham’s extraordinary life and wonderful voice to the page, I know what diverse skills are needed, and what can be achieved when they work together. And it is a joy to be a part of.

“The difficulty for chefs is that most publishers do not really understand the needs and personal views of the chefs. There are a few exceptions, and Anthony Hodgson at Face is one of the best in the world for chefs. He shares with the best chefs a passion for excellence.” Edouard Cointreau – Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

The result of collaboration, of a team that is listening to what a chef wants, and crucially who he is, can be a book to be proud of. And a book like that can stand on any bookshelf, on many bookshelves, spreading the word, keeping the work alive, giving the ephemeral nature of world class food and it’s creators some permanence.