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The Sad State of Cookbooks from France

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it has been suggested before on this thread that the french don't buy that many "fancy cooking" cook books because they don't cook that way at home. also, that they don't often dine at high end restaurants. from what i know, this is true. i think that they don't even do very much cuisine grande mere these days. they are, on the other hand, tremendously proud of their grands chefs, they like to discuss their merits, often pretending to know more than they probably do, and of course this is why those chefs keep appearing in the media. national ikons, they are. "after all, gastronomy is france", as said the guy at lejeune who sold me my sabatier. in the rest of europe and usa, we still tend to dream of la france des grand'meres. oh, were we only french! we admire and like both this cuisine and haute cuisine, we strive to be better home cooks, and we read and buy a lot of cook books to learn the noble art. (and to boost ourselves, the occasional coffee table book) in doing this, we will probably end up having a higher percentage of the population cooking well than in france!

but still it will never be a part of our national identities as it is to the french.

christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

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it has been suggested before on this thread that the french don't buy that many "fancy cooking" cook books because they don't cook that way at home.

From my experience in the Jura, that is not the case. Certainly, the average Frenchman spends his free time these days watching soccer on his widescreen TV, but there are still plenty of people there buying cookbooks.

The cooking classes for locals at the restaurant I work in — a Michelin one star — are always over subscribed. When I go to the bookstore I frequent in Besançon, there's a large section of cookbooks and a substantial subsection of books by chefs. Someone must be buying these.

Plus, many of the fancy French cookbooks available in English in America or England were originally written in French and sold in France.


a.k.a. Peter Hertzmann

à la carte

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i guess that in writing in a foreign language, i have over-simplified what i meant to say.

the frenchmen i've known who cooked well tend to be either professionals or housewives. housewives (a la "mme. maigret") are dying out in france as they are in the rest of europe and usa - though perhaps slower. what seems to remain with the french (as with the italians) is the general idea that to be food-aware is important, but now more as an ideal than as practice. they do dine out, and you tell me they take courses. of course some will try to keep up with their grandmothers' art or get a better grasp of how haute cuisine is really done - but the funny thing is, that most of the french yuppies i know (by now not so young any more), when in the kitchen with me, will be able to tell me "i think you should add a little more of this" or "i think it should be taken off the fire now", even though they hardly ever cook.

all this is of course an urban phenomenon. france is one of the most agrarian cultures of western europe, and i still remember with gratitude the cooking of the mothers of our friends in pay basque 20 years ago - which probably hasn't changed a lot - as well as other, elderly, french housewives. there may be more supermarkets, but i also remember being very impressed by those supermarkets - as i am today.

and being impressed by the supermarkets - even in paris - well, that tells me that a lot of frenchmen still know how to cook, with good ingredients. only, not nearly as many as there used to be, 'cause a lot of people just don't have the time.

christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

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Plus, many of the fancy French cookbooks available in English in America or England were originally written in French and sold in France.

I think the figure for books being translated from a non english language to an English edition is very small indeed. Perhaps about 5 % for cookbooks. So much is produced in English by the UK and America and sold for translation and Co-edition that it makes it hard to work the other way.

The real problem France and the rest of Europe is facing for the sales of cookbooks is the "category killing" that happened at the end of the late 90's. A number of publishers ( the main one being Koenemann ) produced huge volumes of cookery books which they sold at ludicrously low prices and made work by selling enormous numbers and printing incredibly cheaply in Eastern Europe. A 468pp 11 x 9 cookbook which should have cost $40 at market value was sold for $10-20.

Other publishers rushed to follow suit or their lists would have died. Hachette created the Marabout list to compete and Grafe & Unzer in Germany did the same. They began selling books at stupid pricing. The big SR BBQ Bible for $6 anyone? And all the big stores were filled with piles of "promotional books"

The bubble burst last year and Koenemann went under leaving a huge vacuum. Customers wont pay what they were paying before as they have become used to paying such low prices and the books are now in their mind worth that ( bear in mind that we are at the end that buys a huge number of cookbooks, but we make a very small part of the cookbook audience )

sales of more expensive books have plummeted and the pressure is on to keep the prices of books down. A book that I could have sold to a european publisher at a price for them to sell at c£25, I now have to sell to them at a price so they can publish in their country at a price equivalent to £10-15.

Less books are being published and commisioned as a result.

It will recover, but at the moment, the category in France, Germany and most parts of Europe is stagnant if not dead.


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