Ann Bramson
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Ann Bramson

Irene Sax / December 2011

Food Arts presents the December 2011 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Ann Bramson, the editor of extraordinarily beautiful, highly intelligent cookbooks. As publisher of Artisan, the illustrated books division of Workman Publishing in New York City, she produces what would be called coffee-table books if they weren't so fascinating to read and to cook from.

Not all of Artisan's books are about food, and not all of Bramson's food books have been by restaurant chefs. She gave us Carol Field's The Italian Baker, Barbara Kafka's groundbreaking Microwave Gourmet, and Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's world-traveling Flatbreads and Flavors. But it's clear that she has a special touch with professional chefs. In a 35 year career, she has worked with Jacques Pépin, Alain Ducasse, Joyce Goldstein, Jeremiah Tower, Nancy Silverton, Eric Ripert, and Thomas Keller, whose The French Laundry Cookbook and Bouchon have sold "well over 900,000 copies to date," according to Workman founder and president Peter Workman.

What is it about chefs that fascinates Bramson?

"They marry all the things I love: good food, good design, generosity of spirit, and a desire to be the best," she says. "They are the most nurturing people in the world. And they know how to work really hard."

And what is it about Bramson? Tall, with a soft voice and gentle good looks, this native New Yorker started out to be a scientist but got sidetracked when the world of the late 1960s outside academia seemed too appealing. She worked at Esquire in the days of the New Journalism and backed into food writing when she helped Craig Claiborne produce his newsletter. Claiborne introduced her to Pépin, and that resulted in La Technique in 1976. After that came Simon & Schuster, Harper & Row, William Morrow, Workman and, for the past 12 years, Artisan.

"Creating a book is a ton of work for a chef, who already has enormous demands on his time. And I'm always badgering them for more specificity, clarity, and detail."

A sentiment echoed by Keller: "Ann has been able to get more out of our team than any of us thought we could give. And she does it in a way that makes you realize, ‘Yeah, she's right. We can make it better than we thought we could.'"

And what of the future of cookbooks? Now that Mastering the Art of French Cooking can be had as an e-book, will they all be digital in the future? "Oh no," says Bramson. "Hardcover cookbooks will endure. They are our companions in the kitchen, our aide-mémoire. From the splatters on their pages we can see where we were and what we were doing, our accomplishments and failures. It's not an experience you can have backlit on your computer. That may be convenient, but that's not what it's about."