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Cookbook Ghostwriters

 

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One of the first things I learned last summer at the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts (CKCA) from Chef Avram Wiseman is that a chef needs to be talented, creative, and passionate, but cannot have an ego. The culinary creations a chef produces should not be out of pride, and a desire to advance their career and become more famous, but simply because they love cooking and want to share their food with others.

However, ghostwriting, where individuals write recipes and articles through the voice of a particular chef instead of them, is the prevalent mode chefs use to further their stardom and popularity. Perhaps it is my naïveté, but this came as a shock to me when I read an article about ghostwriting in the New York Times. As Julia Moskin says in her article I Was a Cookbook Ghostwriter, “In most cases, the job of a ghostwriter is to produce a credible book from the thin air of a chef’s mind and menu — to cajole and probe, to elicit ideas and anecdotes by any means necessary.”

Bobby Flay explained that many popular chefs write their first cookbook, and then say they will never go through the stressful process again. He calls himself an “author,” but not a writer. It is for this reason that chefs have teams of ghostwriters create cookbooks for them, sometimes with no input at all from the chef other than to make it follow their standard style of cooking and make it sound like their voice.

Moskin describes life as a ghostwriter as often demoralizing, humiliating, and tiresome. The pay is low, there are almost no royalties, and it is very difficult to see a chef get credit for your work, without any mention of your name in the cookbook.

Following the NY Times article, CBS news wrote an article about cookbook writers’ responses. Gwyneth Paltrow denied using a ghostwriter; Rachel Ray claimed to write all of her recipes herself; and other chefs like Jamie Oliver and Mario Batali acknowledged that they collaborate with others on their book, but that they are very much still the authors of their works.

Contrary to these methods, Chef Jamie Geller writes every cookbook entirely herself and she is taking us through the process as she works on her third cookbook in our series, The Making of a Cookbook.  Jamie writes, “When I write a book it’s not just about recipes for me.  I write about everything. My books are part memoir, part autobiography, part diary – entirely about my life.”  I don’t think a ghost writer can do all that.  It just goes to show that not all chefs in the culinary industry are backed by a team of ghostwriters.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/14/dining/i-was-a-cookbook-ghostwriter.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all#

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31749_162-57401798-10391698/gwyneth-paltrow-denies-using-ghostwriter-for-cookbook/

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About Jessica Levenson

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Jessica is currently a sophomore at Barnard College majoring in religion, and actively involved in Jewish life on campus. She is from West Orange, NJ and attended Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School. Jess aspires to one day be a chef in Israel.

 

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2 Responses to Cookbook Ghostwriters

  1. Interesting article – I learned something

    • Lol Jess – I love your post and the original article from the NY Times. I just want to point out a few things 1. I am not a “Chef” :-) – now that that’s out of the way…2. We can’t fault chefs for not being “writers” it’s not at all a prerequisite to being an inspiring original cook — and this “handicap” shouldn’t keep us – meaning the public – from enjoying a particular chef’s recipes in cookbook form. So I think if the recipes are in fact from them/their kitchens and some of the factual/helpful header notes, forward etc… are written by someone else with the chef’s input I don’t think that’s such a terrible thing. After all we are buying the books for their recipes. Their style of cooking. When something is billed as a “memoir” of sorts… then yes I would expect it to be written by the “author”. An entire book though “out of thin air” as you mention –is disappointing. 3. There is alot of pressure to do it all – most celebrity chefs or celebrities in general are expected to have product lines, books and a day job as a restaurant chef or TV host. One person can not do it all — there are teams behind each project. Do we think celebrities are designing all the clothes and shoes in their lines? writing and composing all their songs? we know actors aren’t writing and directing themselves… As I said in my first post — considering all the things I have done in my life (including giving birth to 5 children! Ky”h) I still find writing a cookbook to be an intense, time consuming stressful project. And yes like Bobby Flay after each one I say “I will never do this again”. Lol – looks like we have something in common. Thanks Jess for this great post!

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