Some cooks stick to the books

Afi­ciona­dos wary of ebooks, on­line recipes

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - Break­ing news at cal­gary­her­ald.com Satur­day, Jan­uary 5, 2013 LOIS ABRA­HAM

While e-books have been ex­plod­ing in pop­u­lar­ity in re­cent years, schol­ars, chefs and those who just love to tool around in the kitchen say it’s not time to stick a fork in the phys­i­cal cook­book just yet.

“I’m a pretty messy cook, so hav­ing your com­puter on the counter is a recipe for dis­as­ter,” said Ian Mosby, who is pre­par­ing to teach a Univer­sity of Guelph course that en­com­passes the his­tory of the cook­book.

“If I’m go­ing to pay money to own some­thing I would rather have the phys­i­cal­ity of the book. I’m more likely to read a phys­i­cal cook­book than an ebook.”

The univer­sity, which has a cook­book col­lec­tion of about 4,000 vol­umes — in­clud­ing an im­pres­sive ar­ray of com­mu­nity cook­books — of­fers plenty of ma­te­rial for his re­search, said Mosby, who owns al­most 100 clas­sic cook­books and pam­phlets (smaller cook­books) re­lated to his stud­ies, plus about 40 new edi­tions.

Ali­son Fryer, owner of The Cook­book Store, says peo­ple have been down­load­ing recipes from the In­ter­net for years, but notes that new tech­nol­ogy has cre­ated en­hance­ments for “the cook­book ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Tech­nol­ogy al­lows pub­lish­ers “to pro­duce the most gor­geous cook­books. The dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy now is stun­ning. The pro­duc­tion qual­ity is jaw-drop­ping even (com­pared to) five to 10 years ago. The other thing it al­lows them to do is cre­ate apps and en­hance­ments and we­bisodes ... that go hand in hand with the book,” she said from her down­town Toronto store, which opened about 30 years ago.

“If you’ve got in the fridge some chicken and broc­coli and you just want to know what to make tonight, knock your­self out, go on­line and find some­thing. That’s prob­a­bly the fastest way to do it,” said Fryer, whose store of­fers cook­ing classes and au­thor events and stocks some 9,000 ti­tles.

“But if you want to sit down and read your cook­books, as so many of us do, there’s some­thing about a liv­ing his­tory that’s in your hands and you turn the page with your hand and it’s still so much a part of that.”

Trend watcher Chris­tine Cou­ve­lier, who re­cently passed the 3,000 mark in her cook­book col­lec­tion, also thinks the print for­mat isn’t go­ing any­where, though she also en­joys such in­no­va­tions as the video clips used with recipes and sto­ries in pub­li­ca­tions like Martha Ste­wart Liv­ing that she reads on her iPad.

“There’s some­thing about ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a cook­book the way the au­thor de­signed it so the right for­mat is there,” said the Vic­to­ri­abased chef, who noted that some e-read­ers re­for­mat cook­books.

“But there’s some­thing tac­tile and in­spi­ra­tional and it trans­ports me when I read a cook­book into that au­thor’s kitchen ... but when I then come back to my kitchen I’m still there with that per­son be­cause I have that book with me. I just adore my cook­books.”

Mosby and a group of friends, all in their 30s, formed a cook­book dis­cus­sion group about three years ago, which en­cour­ages mem­bers to go be­yond the realm of what they nor­mally cook. Their meet­ings con­sist of a potluck din­ner, us­ing recipes from the book they’ve cho­sen to dis­cuss that month.

Some mem­bers of Mosby’s group pur­chase the elec­tronic ver­sion, but he usu­ally buys the ac­tual book or bor­rows it from the li­brary. He not a big fan of ecook­books. “It’s def­i­nitely a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence. Some of th­ese books nowa­days, they’re beau­ti­ful,” said Mosby, whose pri­mary re­search in­ter­est is the pol­i­tics, cul­ture and sci­ence of food in Canada dur­ing the 20th cen­tury.

“They’re like pieces of art, so it seems worth it to spend the ex­tra on get­ting the phys­i­cal book.”

Fryer noted that not ev­ery­one has a com­puter in the kitchen or the money to spend on a de­vice. She ac­knowl­edges e-read­ers have their place, but “do you want to read a cook­book on a tablet that’s five-by-seven?”

Many peo­ple swear by us­ing recipes down­loaded from blogs or web­sites, but a down­side of on­line recipes is that they don’t al­ways work.

“Peo­ple will look up a mil­lion recipes, but you have no idea as to the qual­ity or the cred­i­bil­ity of th­ese recipes,” said cook­book au­thor and TV per­son­al­ity Chris­tine Cush­ing.

“OK, some­one has a blog and thinks they’re an ex­pert. That be­comes the chal­lenge. How do you know what you’re get­ting is ac­tu­ally of a cer­tain qual­ity and some­body put a bit more time into it?” such as with a book.

“That is my pet peeve — peo­ple post­ing th­ese crazy recipes and noth­ing works. Then it’s very frus­trat­ing,” she added.

With the num­ber of cook­books out there — Fryer es­ti­mates some 20,000 cook­books are pub­lished an­nu­ally in all lan­guages, with about two-thirds of those in English, she says — many culi­nary au­thors must think it’s lu­cra­tive enough to con­tinue pub­lish­ing.

Fryer points to last year’s sixvol­ume, 2,400-page Mod­ernist Cui­sine: The Art and Sci­ence of Cook­ing by Nathan Myhrvold, CEO and a founder of In­tel­lec­tual Ven­tures, a firm ded­i­cated to cre­at­ing and in­vest­ing in in­ven­tions, along with Chris Young and Maxime Bilet. Prior to that, Myhrvold was the first chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer at Mi­crosoft.

Although some cook­books are be­ing pub­lished solely in an elec­tronic for­mat, celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Bare­foot Contessa Ina Garten con­tinue to write and pub­lish mil­lions in hard­cover. They also have an ac­tive on­line pres­ence and use so­cial me­dia to reach out to their le­gions of fans.

And, some food blog­gers are turn­ing the ta­bles and pub­lish­ing their own hard copies. Re­cent ex­am­ples are Deb Perel­man’s The Smit­ten Kitchen Cook­book (Ap­petite by Random House) and What Katie Ate: Recipes and Other Bits and Pieces by Aus­tralian Katie Quinn Davies (Stu­dio).

“You can go on­line on your iPad and see (the blog) Smit­ten Kitchen and then pick up the book and go in and cook in your kitchen. Ku­dos to peo­ple like Deb Perel­man for do­ing that, mak­ing cook­ing ac­ces­si­ble,” Fryer said.

About a decade ago, the Cook­book Store started host­ing on­stage in­ter­views with cook­book au­thors, which have been hugely pop­u­lar, Fryer said. Events have been held at Roy Thom­son Hall and Massey Hall, as well as smaller venues. The pub­lish­ers and the store ben­e­fit since the ad­mis­sion price in­cludes the book.

The avail­abil­ity of on­line book­mak­ing pro­grams has given rise to pro­fes­sional-look­ing vol­umes cre­ated by am­a­teurs, be it church or school groups do­ing fundrais­ing.

“I helped my mom put to­gether a cook­book of recipes she made for us as kids,” said Mosby. “It’s kind of a his­tor­i­cal ar­ti­fact and also some­thing we prob­a­bly use more than any other cook­book.”

Aaron Vin­cent Elkaim/the Cana­dian Press

Food his­to­rian Ian Mosby, who is get­ting ready to teach a univer­sity course about the his­tory of cook­books, has formed a dis­cus­sion group with friends. They, and other cook­book afi­ciona­dos, love to leaf through the colour­ful tomes and draw in­spi­ra­tion...

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