In 2007, DK Publishing released a really charming cookbook called THE ETHNIC PARIS COOKBOOK. Beautifully illustrated, and stuffed with wonderful recipes, this was a guide/cookbook to the fabulous ethnic melting pot of foods that can be found in the Moroccan, Vietnamese, Tunisian, Thai, Chinese, Laotian, Lebanese, Syrian, Senegalese (and a host of others) restaurants of Paris. My first reaction to the book was, here is a great introduction to a wide variety of ethnic cuisines. Co-written by Charlotte Puckette and Olivia Kiang-Snaije, THE ETHNIC PARIS COOKBOOK got kind of lost in the cookbook shuffle that year and I was able to call upon my contacts for year-end recommendations and some wonderful food editors responded to the book’s charm and good food. Recently Olivia and I reconnected on Facebook where she told me she would be attending and displaying the book at the Paris Cookbook Festival. I was intrigued by the idea of a cookbook festival in a city of such epic culinary achievement and decided I needed to know more.
STR: How exciting to hear about a cookbook festival in such a big city celebrated for its fine food as Paris. Can you give us a description of the festival, where it will be held, for how long and how many publishers are expected? Who sponsors this fair?
OK-S: You might think why didn’t anyone organize a cookbook festival in Paris before, which is what I asked the founder, Edouard Cointreau. Cointreau (who is from the Cointreau family on his father’s side and the Frapin Cognac and Rémy Martin family on his mother’s side) has been running the Gourmand Cookbook Awards since 1995, which encourage, promote and honor those who “cook with words”. Cointreau is capitalizing on his vast network of contacts in the cooking world and bringing everyone together for this new trade fair. Cointreau is hooked into the international world of cookbook publishing and told me that besides the Children’s book fair in Bologna, there hasn’t been until now, a specialized market for cookbooks. International rights for cookbooks are bought and sold at either the Frankfurt or London book fairs. Moreover, with the crisis affecting the publishing industry, cookbooks are still doing relatively well and actually financing some of the publishers. Cointreau thought he would launch his trade fair in Paris, because of course the name is prestigious, but also because the time is right: it will be a small fair and in a central location. Publishers don’t have to take a big risk—it’s reasonable for them to invest in a fair this size. It is financed privately and organized by the Gourmand International Cookbook Awards. It will be held in a newly renovated 19th century industrial exhibition space from February 11-15th, 2010. Cookbook author Claudia Roden is the honorary president and Harumi Kurihara, the Japanese cookbook author will be present as well as chefs such as Alain Ducasse and Michel Troisgros. The majority of French cookbook publishers will be present, they make up 35% of the publishers attending, and as of this week, another 35% will come from Europe and 30% from Asia and Latin America. There may be editors coming from the US but publishers are visibly absent, an indication that the book industry in the US is suffering more than elsewhere.
STR: Is it open to the public or only to publishing insiders?
This is an entirely new venture and for the moment Cointreau has a 3-year agreement to hold the festival in Paris. It’s open to the public over the weekend, with Friday and Monday for trade insiders. All the events are free for whoever is attending. There will be international chef demonstrations, 40 food and wine tastings, conferences, and book signings. There’s more information on this site: www.cookbookfair.com
STR: Give us a description of the kinds of cookbooks on view there, the activities in support of cookbooks?
OK-S: Charlotte, my co-author and I attended the Gourmand Cookbook Awards held in Frankfurt when our book was given a prize in 2007 and I was at the Gourmand stand at the London Book fair over the subsequent years. It’s very exciting because you get to meet people from all over the world who share similar passions. You learn things about food and wine by simply conversing with people spanning the globe from China to Iceland and you see cookbooks that you won’t find in your local Barnes & Noble. Cointreau has always been very vigilant about awarding and bringing to the public’s attention quality books that are slightly off the beaten track that might otherwise get lost in the crowd of celebrity chef books. Regarding the Paris Cookbook Festival it’s a chance for new and upcoming international talent to mix with well-known authors, publishers and chefs.
STR: Are cookbooks and cooking shows as popular in France as they are in the United States?
OK-S: There are quite a few cooking shows here and a few are dubbed British shows like Nigella Lawson or Jamie Oliver but in general they are not broadcast during prime time. There is one show that is getting popular which is about a host who will prepare dinner for guests and then professionals rate the dishes. What is very popular, however, are cooking workshops or having a private chef come to one’s house to prepare a dinner for guests.
While I had Olivia's attention this also seemed a good time to ask about the Paris cookbook culture in general.
STR: Recently I Know How to Cook (Je Sais Cuisiner) was published in English in the United States. Can you describe its reputation in France? It was published more than 75 years ago. It is still popular among younger French cooks?
OK-S: Ginette Mathiot’s book is considered a “bible” much like “The Joy of Cooking” but it’s not in any way hip. It’s something that grandmothers or mothers might give to their sons or daughters when they move into their own home and is a constant, but not talked about a lot.
STR: What cookbooks are selling well in France now? Are TV chefs leading the bestseller lists as they are in the U.S.?
OK-S: I think the market is less led by celebrity chefs than in the US and the UK. The bestsellers seem to be a lot of books about desserts or smaller handbooks published by Stock, Minerva or Marabout publishers on a specific theme, like “easy dishes to make for singles” or “terrines” or “tagines”.
STR: Does Julia Child have a reputation in France or has the release of “Julie and Julia” made her better known there?
OK-S: Julia Child is not well known here and when the film came out none of my French friends had ever heard of her. Those who saw the film focused less on the personality of Julia Child than on the pleasure of seeing Meryl Streep impersonate an original character.
STR: Are you working on a new cookbook? Website, etc?
OK-S: Charlotte and I are hoping to write the same book on London, because the colonial world was in large part divided up between France and the United Kingdom, so the “ethnic” influences on the cities of Paris and London are directly related to the former colonies and don’t really overlap. But Charlotte has been busy with her catering business and I’ve been editing a magazine and working in publishing so we haven’t had as much time as we would have liked to focus on selling the idea. The Ethnic Paris Cookbook was a real labor of love and it took a tremendous amount of concentrated time. But we would like to do the same, eventually for London.
Our website is www.theethnicpariscookbook.com