Notes from The Roger Smith Cookbook Conference

The Roger Smith Hotel in NYC - site of the Cookbook Conference

The Roger Smith Hotel in NYC – site of the Cookbook Conference

Who would think a conference exists that’s devoted solely to cookbooks? It does, and in fact the conference content is diverse enough to warrant different tracks.  One track focuses on the cookbook industry and delves into the impact of new media/social media on traditional cookbook publishing. The other track is devoted to food history & culture — and more specifically, the history of cookbooks.

A very interesting conference session was “Trendspotting in the Food Space.” Here are some of the more intriguing points from this session:

Joe Yonan, Food/Travel Editor, The Washington Post:

  • A food “trend” is a “fad” if we don’t like it.  So, if we don’t like cake pops (small pieces of cakes on sticks) we’ll be more likely to think they’re passing fancies.

Terry Newell, President, Weldon Owen (a book publisher):

  • In order for a book publisher to be able to monetize a food trend, this trend has to be well established.  Therefore, you wouldn’t publish a book devoted to a food, if this food only appeared on upscale restaurant menus.  However, when retailers such as Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table start stocking bakeware/cookware for a specific food, you know the time is ripe to offer a cookbook devoted to this food.  And when Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target start carrying this bakeware, you know the food trend is very well established.

Addie Broyles, Editor and Food Writer, Austin-American Statesman:

  • While food trends are very important, don’t overlook other food stories.  Sending out a request for recipes for pfeffernusse (very small and round Northern European spice cookies –not the latest food trend), on behalf of a reader, led to a very compelling column about what these spice cookies mean to a reader’s family and to the impact of World War II on this family.  Of course, pfeffernusse recipes were also part of this column.

Another interesting session was “Bowker Cookbook Study: Who Buys Cookbooks and in What Format?”  Bowker is a company that serves the book industry and conducts market research studies analyzing purchases of books, including cookbooks.  Some interesting cookbook facts:  In 2012 2,707 cookbooks were published and this number includes e-books.  If a book was published in both print and e-book formats, it was counted twice. As of the 3rd quarter of 2012, 70% of cookbook buyers were female.  And, as compared with purchases of all book types, cookbook purchases were more likely to be impulse purchases.

A few dessert-oriented points, gleaned from other conference sessions:

  • Cookbooks in the 19th century were filled with recipes for desserts.  Middle-class women were expected to prepare desserts themselves, even if they had staff preparing the rest of the meal.
  • The determination of what’s “exotic” depends not just on class, but also on geography.  A dessert considered “exotic” in Iowa might be thought of as more mainstream in New York City.
  • Even when middle-class Indian people in this country cook a traditional Indian meal for their guests, dessert is more likely to be “American” than Indian.

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