Cook books seem to have lost their charm, why is the market flooded then?
Food writing and cook books have never been bigger, but in the long run, have they lost their purpose? The internet has more than enough bytes in the form of videos, blogs, and e-books. Publishers have drastically cut down on the number of cook books they choose to publish; "Publishers are learning the market with each book that they choose to do", said Debasri.
Purely recipe-based cook books fall flat; recipes are two mouse clicks away and the reader is looking for more. Harper Collins's Gorgeous by Swetha Jaishankar took a different take on the world of cooking, blending healthy diets, lifestyle and fashion; it busts several myths about how models eat, or rather, going by popular beliefs, don't.
According to Ranveer, "Writing a cook book allows a chef-author to take a step back and say: this is me!". The book 'A pinch of this, A handful of that' authored by Rushina brought along many gratifying interactions her way, with readers getting nostalgic about an aunt's or a grandmother's recipe.
To the publishers' surprise and delight, a lot of young individuals (20–30-year olds) not traditionally expected to be interested in cook books are buying them.
What works today?
In printed cook books, the design matters a great deal – it lends to ease of reading and understanding of the process."Using tough-to-read calligraphy and over-the-top designs to give cook books a story-book-like look is not user friendly" said Rushina. It's important for the author to be convinced about the final look and feel of their book.
Visuals are an essential element. Chefs can no longer restrict themselves to recipes and flavours; they need to get into the nitty-gritty of food styling as well; in fact, they need to understand all aspects of food making and presenting.
Chef Varun said, "This international wave has started right from Nigella Lawson and Gordon Ramsay to Jamie Oliver and Martha Stewart". Where earlier food stylists and photographers were a rare breed, today there are formal courses in food styling in centres like Milan and New York. Varun also highlighted Vikas Khanna's 1,200-page cook book Utsav, which was styled under severe time constraints, where he aimed to capture a western flavour as well as maintain 'Indianess' through pictures of Indian festivals.
What about the regional cook book market?
The Indian cook book market is flooded with English language books, but where do regional language cook books stand?
The answer is dicey. The cook book market is price-conscious, and adding high-quality visuals and colours inflates the costs. Hindi cook books, for example, are typically priced in the INR 99-150 bracket, and such budget constraints don't favour the publication of a good quality cook book.
Chef Ranveer talked about Guzishta Lucknow which is still considered one of the best narratives describing the genesis of the culture and the of Lucknow written by . Abdul Halim Sharar a historian from Lucknow, which was available only in Urdu for years, until a small publisher, realising its worth, translated it to English. Ranveer pointed out the need for publishers to translate English cook books into regional languages and vice versa.
Cook books that shaped the connoisseurs
Talking of cook books that shaped them, Rushina said she revisits the Cookery Encyclopaedia to get inspired; the Holly Hughes series of book writing has also influenced her greatly. "In the future, I would like to see a cook book that talks of stories from the by-lanes of India, a book that is curated by several authors and chefs", said Rushina.
Harold McGee's The Curious Cook shaped Ranveer's thinking, because it breaks down the science of cooking into plain common sense. Varun spoke about painter Salvadore Dali's Les Diners de Gala, a visual delight for its surreal images, which has been reprinted after 40 years.
Debasri shared that she likes Chillies and Porridge for the variety of stories it has to offer. Vikram Doctor mentioned Geeta Devi's Jewels of the Nizam – Recipes from the Khansamas of Hyderabad. "A simple book really, but it makes for a stimulating read for its unusual food preparations", said Vikram.
The unanimous decision was that, there are still plenty of people who love to hold a cook book along with a coffee mug and retire to mull over a trip down food lane. Many food lovers pick up a cook book for the food stories sewn in seamlessly with the recipes.
We would like to know what you think about the future of Indian cook books and which book has shaped you.