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Around the World in 950 Cookbooks

Meryle Evans / April 1st, 2013

“It was like an Olympic Village of flavor,” said Tim Ferriss, of this year’s Paris Cookbook Fair and Gourmand Awards, where he received kudos for his The 4-Hour Chef. Ferriss was one of 2,750 cookbook authors and publishers from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe who flocked to France in February to attend the annual fair and awards ceremony.

During three jam-packed days at the Carrousel du Louvre, the sprawling underground mall and exposition center adjacent to the Louvre Museum, they poured over a daunting array of some 950 books about food and drink from 86 countries entered in the competition; visited 100 stands set up by publishers to promote their brands and negotiate foreign rights; and scurried to simultaneous sessions that featured celebrity chef demonstrations, wine tastings, panel discussions, and clips of star chefs' television programs. The pièce de résistance, the eagerly anticipated awards ceremony, brought winners from 41 countries to the stage to accept accolades in 70 categories.

Now in it's 18th year, the Gourmand Awards was initiated by Edouard Cointreau, scion of two famed liquor families, Cointreau and Rémy Martin, and aims to respect and honor culinary authors and publishers, and build bridges between cultures. Cointreau remains at the helm, keeping pace with the burgeoning global obsession with food.

In 2012, over 8,000 books were entered in the competition. The 950 exhibited at the fair made the first cut; that number was then reduced to a total of four or five finalists in each category. In addition, several special tributes included a Hall of Fame citation for La Varenne’s Anne Willan and Mark Cherniavsky, whose latest culinary history is The Cookbook Library, and Cookbook of the Year for Montréal chef Martin Picard’s Cabane à Sucre au Pied de Cochon. There were many American finalists, and a handful of winners, among them Ken Albala’s Three World Cuisines: Italian, Mexican, Chinese, and the 2,000 recipe two-volume The Microsoft Cookbook, a tie with three Canadian counterparts (Charity Fundraising, North America). Ferriss, who was named best for First Book, admitted, “I’ve been afraid of cooking and intimidated by food people my entire life…(and) to win a Gourmand Award left me at a loss for words…. The real highlight was meeting so many passionate cooks and writers from around the world. Where else could you learn about baking in Azerbaijan?” For San Franciscan Linda Lau Anusasananan, “Shock, disbelief, joy,” were her emotions on learning that The Hakka Cookbook was tied for first place in the Chinese Cuisine slot.

Anusasananan’s award reveals the diversity of publishing in a global market. In the United States Cuisine category, for instance, Denmark won for New Yorker by Heart, written by blogger Birthe Lynggaard, who fell in love with American food while working as an au pair. Her book vied with entries from France, Germany, Japan, and The James Beard Foundations', Best of the Best. Other counterintuitive choices ranged from the Swiss Shanghai Stressenküchen (Street Food) to Handmade Chocolate from China’s Wang Seng School (Chocolate). Asia’s mushrooming culinary awareness was also noted with an award to Chinese Food Television, the 24 hour channel that is equivalent to our Food Channel and offers 60 shows daily.

Cointreau pointed out that strong cookbook sales were largely due to the influence of television, especially in Asia and South America. “If no one knows who you are, forget it,” stressed the eminent American cookbook agent and publicist Lisa Ekus, who was honored with an Outstanding Career Award. Dozens of chefs with TV series showed clips of their programs and staged engaging demonstrations in the show kitchen. Grits and pulled pork tenderloin prepared by Georgia chef Virginia Willis, author of Bon Appetit Y'all, were a hit with attendees. Prominent French chefs on the program included Pascal Aussignac of Club Gascon, who paired foie gras with popcorn, and Pierre Hermé, who brought boxes of macarons and chocolates that vanished in minutes. Hermé is one of the stars in a new Valrhona online series for professionals that chef Frédéric Bau introduced to the audience; the link to the series is www.valrhonaprofessionals.com.

The main focus at the fair, however, was the lively marketplace for buying and selling foreign rights. There were many small publishers along with large houses like Phaidon Press, one of whose prominent authors, Financial Times food columnist Nick Lander, signed copies of his book, The Art of the Restaurateur, while Lander’s wife, the wine writer Jancis Robinson, was a Hall of Fame honoree for her book Wine Grapes.

Representatives from Alain Ducasse Editions, the very active publishing arm of the chef’s myriad enterprises, demonstrated a new digital venture, an iPad app for his Grand Livre de Cuisine, available in both French and English, with 250 cross-referenced recipes, techniques, and ingredient profiles.

Swedish publishers lured visitors with samples of local artisanal products, including hand-milked goat’s milk cheese and beet-smoked salmon; the Azerbaijan delegation, in folk costume, entertained with music and traditional sweets; Cordon Bleu students pulled sugar into show pieces.

Surveying the scene, Cointreau observed that, while the publishing industry was generally flat, cookbooks were thriving. He predicted a bright future, especially in Asia and Latin America, especially for books on single subjects, easy cooking, and health, noting that in the West, it’s taste first, while in Asia, health is the most important consideration.

Multistarred chef Guy Savoy, with four restaurants in Paris, one in Las Vegas, and another in Singapore, also spoke about the contemporary culinary milieu. He urged chefs to take advantage of new media, use TV, and travel around the world. “Cooks can go anywhere,” he advised. “Cuisine has no passport.” And that comment sums up the ambience at the Paris Cookbook Fair.