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gfron1

The making of my own cookbook

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I've been around eG for quite some time, and what many of my eG friends know is that so much of what I've learned, I've learned through you all.  I've always cooked interesting foods at home including in New Orleans, Indiana, Missouri, Colorado and now New Mexico, and with culinary travels to Peru, much of Europe, Canada and Mexico, I've done well eating and cooking various cuisines.  And despite having never worked in a restaurant a day in my life, I opened my own place back in 2008 as documented here.

 

Long story short, I've done fairly well since that time getting coverage in the NYT, WSJ Sunset, Saveur 100, Gastronomica and this year being a James Beard semifinalist.  Not too bad for a guy essentially trained by many of you!

 

Parallel to all of that I was one of three eGers that regularly reviewed cookbooks at The Gastronomer's Bookshelf which gave me the opportunity to hone in on what I liked and disliked in cookbooks. 

 

Last year I decided that I had enough requests to do a cookbook so I jumped in.  My genre is modernist foraged with very strong roots in pastry.  I also believe in intuitive cooking and am a staunch anti-tweezer chef.  I want a book that is award worthy, but completely accessible to the advanced home cook, yet inspiring at the same time.  My strength is fun and interesting uses of wild ingredients.  My weakness is editing (as evidenced above).

 

I have a killer team including Jay Hemphill as my photographer and food writer from Albuquerque as my co-author.

 

I received my first page layout drafts today so now its real enough that I thought it might be fun to chronicle the process with you all and get even more support since I know many of you have your own books.  Here's a teaser pic - not necessarily one we'll use, but pretty yummy nonetheless,

CCC.jpg

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I want one of whatever is in the picture.

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I'm looking forward to it Rob. Of course I'll follow along here... but the only thing I really need to know is when and where I can get it.

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The photo is a foraged mesquite chocolate chip cookie.  Today I worked on all of my foraged booze and soda recipes.  I won't shill here but part of what I'm learning about is the timing of production and printing relative to sales.  Our hope is that we'll be on bookshelves next Christmas (2015) which we think means the book needs to be done and off to print in October.  Crazy long turn around.  

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Congrats.  Let us know if you need any recipe testing.

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Recipe testing is one of the things that scares me the most since I'm at 6,000'.  

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I'm at sea level. I suspect many of your readers will be too.

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Some of us might help you test a few things. I know that after I left Santa Fe, some of my recipes never came out right again, even with very calculated adjustments.

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I'll also be a willing recipe tester!  At sea level over here on the other side of the country.

 

So thrilled for you!

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Congratulations. I think it will be great if you take us all along on the process.

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I guess I'll start with why I'm writing a cookbook.  Its odd actually because I rarely write down my recipes, and never repeat them.  That's how I've cooked at home since 1990 (graduated from college in New Orleans), and how I do it in the restaurant.  My food is very seasonal - for example, this morning I foraged recently dropped walnuts so I'm working on a young walnut croquette with thai curry.  But over the years I've had many customers ask if we had a book.  So quite frankly the book is a revenue source.  How much?  I don't know, but I have talked to a number of other small restaurants that put out books and have a good guesstimate on our revenue.  Its also about building my brand.  Things are going well for me and I want to keep them that way.  I am constantly thinking about my relevance in the industry - something I have to fight extra hard for since we're 3 hours to any city.  I'm also writing the book because I haven't been happy with the forage movement in restaurants and I think someone needs to make a statement about how it could or should look to have chefs traipsing around in the woods.  I won't make the book a sermon, but I think making the statement is important.  And lastly, I do feel like I have fresh perspective that might be enjoyable with modern foraged foods.

 

Over the weekend I'll try to explain how we plan on getting this published, so stay tuned!


Edited by gfron1 (log)
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The publishing question is an important one these days because of the transition from traditional publishers and bookstores to print on demand and internet stores. I've been down both tracks and am now totally convinced that selling on Amazon and net platforms offers far better leverage financially and emotionally than following the old ways. My royalty returns are approx. 400% higher than with traditional publishing. My books are aimed at a different market than yours though( a building reference library rather than an entertainment)  and  I choose to use no photography even though I have taken  thousands of professional images. I'll be interested in what your publishing plans are and how that goes and wish you luck.

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I love the idea: showing us all how you cook. However, I suspect for me, this would be a vicarious cookbook: I bet much of what you forage for is completely unavailable to me, on the shore of Lake Ontario. I'd enjoy seeing the process you go through, especially with more photographs like the one above, but it's unlikely that I'd be able to actually try many (any?) of the recipes unless you can tell us where to buy the ingredients you obtain by foraging. Is there any chance you can provide sources, or substitutes, for those of us who don't live in the southwest? I'd be happy to test also, but would need to work with what I have available to me.

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I've considered availability, and in fact, its one of my complaints about other books that tend to be coastal - mushrooms, seaweed, etc.  I'm focusing on more commonly found items like acorns, cattails, hackberries, wild grapes, prickly pears (you won't have that one), walnuts, etc.  But i'm also hoping to create a confidence in substitutions...if you don't have cattail, sub cucumber for example.

 

This editing question keeps being brought up so I'm meeting with my team later this weekend to talk about how we want to handle it.  

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This all sounds good and exciting too.  I'm so glad that you have returned to eG and now a cookbook to follow too. All best.

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Are you going to make it an e-book as well? My shelves are so full I prefer to purchase new books in this format.


Edited by nickrey (log)

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Interesting question.  I don't know the mechanics of creating an e-book.  And I would love to hear thoughts about this - when the book straddles the line between functional cookbook and coffee table cookbook, does an e-book have merit.  For comparison, I think the Manressa book share many similarities.  From a design perspective we've been watching Chapter One by Ross Lewis, and my favorite book of all time is Black Pudding & Foie Gras by Andrew Pern.

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Here's my publishing strategy.  As I previously mentioned, one of the models that we're using is a small restaurant in Northern Arizona.  A good restaurant, but not particularly notable.  They're in a mid-size city with 40 covers...so slightly bigger than us, but not as recognized.  They went the route of self-publishing and because of their sales were ultimately picked up by a regional publisher.  They've grossed $110K in three years.  

Because of a conversation here on eG years ago with Dorie Greenspan about one of the Pierre Hermé books and choices her publisher made against her will, I want to retain as much creative control as possible.  And I want to retain as much of the profit as possible.  Our research on printing suggests that for a run of 3-5,000 book in the format that we're designing the cost will be between $9-11 per book.  Please correct me if you think this is off.

 

So what I want to do is design the book in a common format (size, layout, etc) to allow for the possibility of a publisher grabbing the project, but take the process all the way to final proof.  At that point, approach a few publishers that I think will be open to being a distributor moreso than publisher.  I would pay for the printing.  They would handle distribution, and importantly, include it in their catalog.  We are creating the book with aspiration of awards (JBF, IACP, etc) and I think having a publisher including the book in their catalog is important to that end (hence not self-published).  This would reduce their percentage and allow me to not have to store a cargo container in my driveway.

 

I know this isn't traditional, nor the way it works, but is there any reason why it couldn't?

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Give some thought to producing an App (phone/tablet) to help with the foraging and preparation aspects. This is not completely innovative, but would add a ton of value for today's generation. Also, a great many people use YouTube to find recipes these days (if a picture is worth a thousand words, what price a FLV?), that may also be something to investigate, in order to get your message out.

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The big question of the day is - how the hell do chefs get a cookbook done on top of their other work!?  I'm doing my best but I can't seem to carve enough time out to make it happen.  Deadline is looming so my staff needs to step up!

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You mention a cost of about $10 per book. Is that cost to produce or sale price? If the latter I think you are selling yourself short. Aren't there now services that will print up a book almost a la minute? That would decrease your up front cost.

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That's printing 3000 books in China shipped to my door.  We hope to sell at $40ish understanding how Amazon drops the price way down.  And that's comparable for similar size and quality books.

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