Cookbook Criteria

With the holidays coming up everyone is seeking new recipes or interesting spins on traditional dishes, trying to impress their family and friends because great-grandma’s secret recipes are getting old (just like her). There’s a surplus of cookbooks for everyone from amateurs to experienced cooks, but how do you find a credible cookbook that works for you? Who’s the Twain, Salinger, or Fitzgerald of cookbook authors?

Many people turn on Food TV Network and choose a favorite author based on their favorite TV personality. Every chef on TV—whether Guy Fieri or Paula Dean or Emeril Lagasse, each a household name—has released a multitude of cookbooks. Many people jump to buy these books with the face of their favorite food personality on the cover, hoping that the recipes are going to be just as delicious as they look on TV.

Most of the time cookbooks are simply judged by the cover, not the content. The amateur cook sees a famous person on the cover and they’re intrigued, hoping that the cookbook will help them to cook and eat just like that celebrity. It’s not only famous chefs that release cookbooks. It’s become an overall celebrity trend. Television stars like Eva Longoria (Eva’s Kitchen: Cooking with Love for Family and Friends), comedians like Jeff Foxworthy (Redneck Grill: The Most Fun You Can Have With Fire, Charcoal, and a Dead Animal), singers like Cheryl Crow(If It Makes You Healthy: More Than 100 Delicious Recipes Inspired by the Seasons) and even Maya Angelou (Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart ) are some of the celebrities who have put their own spin, but most importantly their name and face, on a cookbook. We know they can act and sing, but cook?

One should be hesitant about cookbooks on the best-seller lists (whether Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or the NY Times). In the literary realm the best-seller list and various awards doled out to books seem unrelated to a book’s substance. More often than not these books are recognized not because of content, but to put specific books or authors in the spotlight. They simply function as an industry tool. The same holds true in the cookbook realm. Celebrities release cookbooks because their face and name sells the book. My father has been a professional chef for over 20 years. He was a student at the notable Johnson & Wales University culinary school, and everyone raves over his Italian cooking and personal recipes. If he were to publish a cookbook of his own and it was on the shelf next to a cookbook that, say, Ozzy Osbourne had compiled, my father most likely would be beat out in sales by Ozzy simply because he, chef or not, is more well known.

When looking for a genuinely useful cookbook a consumer should consider more important criteria than the author and their background. First, you should examine the intent of the book: what is the skill level it’s intended for? How comprehensive are the recipes? How does this cookbook compare to others with the same ambitions? Second, you should look at the actual content of the recipes, making sure they’re practical and coincide with the skill level, that they don’t require impossible-to-find ingredients, and that the instructions are clear and comprehensive. Even check the average cooking times for the recipes, or if they include helpful photos (not just fancy pictures of the finished product). Third, and finally, you should examine the nutritional information that accompanies the recipes.

The literary industry manipulates not only what people read, but also how people do things, like cook. So even when it comes to cookbooks, you should never judge a book by its cover.

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