Master chefs and culinary artists are inspired by their gardens, farms, greenmarkets, & artisanal food makers. Author Leeann Lavin has written a book about the nexus of garden art and culinary art. The blog chronicles the process of producing the first-in-a-series-book: The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook & explores the exciting, burgeoning farm to table movement, food, and local, seasonal, delicious ingredients.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Back for Seconds: The Roger Smith Cookbook Conference, February 7-9th, NYC
There is a huge audience for cookbooks.
Cookbooks are an outsize commentary on our culture.
With more than 23 books under his culinary belt, and presently
working on two more food books almost simultaneously, Andrew F. Smith, better
known as Andy, surely possesses the discipline of a monk and the quiet passion
and anticipation of a high school first date.
He is also food author, educator at the New School in New
York City where he teaches
food history, food controversies and professional food writing.
He is a
dedicated writer, a plodding journeyman dedicated to his art and industry.
So often with the greats of one era, talents can be blinded
to the advancing, shifting winds and tides and all the forces of nature – blind
to the displacing paradigms sea changes.
Think of silent movie stars the likes of Rudolph Valentino
or Charlie Chaplin who never made the transition to “talkies.”
Major brands suffer from blinders too and don’t look in the
rear view mirror: Kodak lost out to digital and eventually the iPhone.
In all – they never saw it coming…
So how did it come to be that a successful food and drink
and author, New School instruction and guest speaker came to help spearhead the
first-ever Cookbook Conference bringing together culinary writers and cookbook
authors and publishers to determine the next platform or protocol for the industry?
This is the nexus of commerce and art and networking.
The Cookbook Conference is the third leg of the stool.
It’s Andy’s very love for his avocation that propelled and
inspired him and a core cohort to launch The
Roger Smith Cookbook Conference program development.
The pioneering Cookbook Cohort includes Bruce Shaw who,
according to his website information and Facebook, acquired The Harvard Common Press in 1980 and has been
the president and publisher for the past 30 years. He is responsible for the
development of the company’s vertical focus in cooking and has built The
Harvard Common Press into a nationally recognized publishing company. He is
also deeply involved in a number of cookbook outreach efforts, especially
also an active member of the International Association of Culinary
Professionals as well as a major investor in an online recipe start-up,
Yummly.com, which allows the user to learn more about you as you use it. The recipe
search will allow users to get recipes focused on their needs. For example,
vegan or gluten-free eaters will increasingly get recipes delivered to them via
It was a very organic process, as Smith describes the way
they put the show together. They didn’t
start the conference from a structural standpoint but rather from a content
foundation. Not surprising for content creators. Er, writers.
Seriously. This is
one of the broader issue themes that propelled Smith and his cookbook-writing
cronies to produce the cookbook conference/gathering.
“The business model for cookbooks has not suffered from
digitization or eBooks or consolidation as the general publishing industry has”
explained Smith. It remains only ten to
15% of current sales.
The broader publishing industry was seen as having jumped
And while they recognized their cookbook genre remained safe
from the blood that was in the water in other categories, it was still poised
to make a leap.
So to get ahead of that painful bite, they saw the need to
collectively manage their future and the changing world of cookbook publishing.
They were laying in place a recipe for success.
With looming questions like, “If bloggers are giving away
recipes/content, what value do cookbooks have?” Or “How can cookbook writers
create Apps?” Or “Where do eBooks an
enhanced content fit in the cookbook world?”
In it’s second year, the Cookbook Conference will be again
held at the family-owned Roger Smith hotel.
“It’s perfect for us, “ noted Smith (no relation). It’s a boutique hotel, it has a foodie
pedigree, (read artist-friendly); they allow us the freedom to pretty much do
what we want (more artistic freedom) “And plus,” he adds with equal parts mirth
and strategic sincerity – “The elevators are really slow.”
Before one can ponder what Depression-era lift technology
has to do with a forward-thinking professional conference – Smith points out
that slow elevators provide a conversation nest – a captive crew who are more
or less forced to chat on the long journey of going from here to there.
No awkward silence among these word warriors; they exchange shoptalk
about the panels and workshops.
Plus, the conference has built in plenty of time for
interaction among the attendees.
“We see the networking as such a valuable part of the
event,” Smith points out. “We’ve heard
of more than one success anecdote of someone finding an agent or getting a book
That kind of thing that can only come about with thoughtful
one-one-one conversations. Therefore they built in plenty of needed down time
to talk, swap stories and business cards over -- what else – cocktails and
meals – as well as between the panels and workshops.
This year there are 32 panels and eight workshops. There are
120 panelists – experts in their field – from culinary history to food writing,
cookbook editing, cookbook reviews and marketing and public relations.
Smith explained the workshops as hands-on learning
experiences. They are three to four
hours long. With subjects that include Introduction
to Cookbook Publishing, Cookbook Publishing 360, The Wild World of Self-Publishing,
the sessions are chock-a-block with detailed expert advice, discussion,
and Q&A. Some have advance preparation and reading prep required in order
to better benefit the attendees.
“The goal is a practical orientation,” Smith said. He
explained how the workshops offer in-depth, practical information from those
who know best.
While some of the workshops are already filled, video of the
workshops will be made available for purchase.
The Panels essentially fall into one of two, loosely defined
or labeled categories: academic and looking at the future.
The 20 academic sessions undertake such topics as culinary history and how food
impacts economics and cultures.
The future sessions explore the nexus of cookbooks and
technology, and popular culture.
These 12 panels will showcase key topics careening toward
every element of the world of cookbooks.
For example, Smith explained that with half a million recipes online, there
is a lot of talk about what is a successful cookbook today?
Mixing it up even more is the fact that those food bloggers firing
off recipes to the blogosphere – can, in turn, garner a traditional cookbook.
Famous chefs – who used to produce a cookbook to increase
the popularity for his or her restaurant, now more often produce cookbooks as
part of their brand building to help sell vanity products in vertical market
categories from kitchen appliances to frozen food. And chefs who work with “ghost” writers find
those spirits are not content to remain in the shadows and instead produce their
Food apps might allow someone to press a button and see the
soufflé being made – in images.
The issue and opportunity of enhanced platforms – meaning
adding audio and video to cookbooks is very, very big. The digital version of the book can offer
(This Examiner shot video during the photo session for her
book, The Hamptons & Long Island
Homegrown Cookbook for this very purpose. At the same time, Smith said that
cookbook publishers increasingly look for authors who have an audience across
social media outlets. Twitter and
Facebook Followers can enthusiastically help sell books and viral
communications and extend the fan base.)
“This is what is so exciting about our business,” enthuses
Smith in talking about all the opportunities technology can afford cookbook
publishing as it whisks into the 21st century.
In response to this Examiner’s questions, Smith highlighted
a few of the panel’s subject topics, including “…Why Write Cookbooks for Kids?”
‘There exists generational and gender issues baked into this
Smith chuckles recalling how his mother would “throw” him
out of the kitchen.
Today, he notes that approximately 40% of the Food Network’s
audience is male! Quite a demographic
shift in the food culture.
Food at home and what we can do with children are important
messages that resonate according to Smith.
The Regional American
Cookery panel will discuss how food is a way to identify and authenticate a
region and its people.” “Regional cookbooks will continue to rise in
popularity,” Smith said. Why?
Family traditions and recipes and celebrations, along with
local food culture and cultivation used to be passed on through the generations. This is how all cookbooks came to be.
However, given time pressure, overscheduling and parenting
“out-sourcing” these traditions have too often become a lost art.
Regional cookbooks have stepped up and filled a culinary and
cultural historical void. “Regional
cookbooks preserve local and regional culinary art in the presence of
nationalization and globalization – both of these phenomenon contribute to the
destruction of local traditions,” Smith added.
Regional cookbooks are the antidote to indistinguishable,
I so wish the Cookbook Conference would have been on my or my publisher's radar screen -- I would have been honored and oh-so-perfect for this Regional Cookbook panel with The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook. Sigh... There was so much going on with the book tour and signings that it escaped us...
Continuing, Smith said the Regional Cookbooks also offer “a nostalgic look back to the rich cultural
past that food and family provide.”
Smith cited New Orleans, Chicago, and Alice Waters’ Bay area
as food-centric places where happy or unusual circumstances occurred to command
incredibly different and unique food cultures that influence national and
international significance and recognition.
Honing in on Waters, Smith explained that she and her Chez
Panisse were not the only one to stress locally-sources ingredients. However she got the visibility and encouraged
so many to follow the local food and slow food lifestyle.
Incredibly, New York was the last to buy into this culinary
transformational, seismic shift.
Even more interesting though, is how Smith goes on to
illustrate how this could be – how a restaurant and culinary powerhouse could
trip up or miss-step it’s leadership in this way.
Smith related how haute cuisine in the European,
particularly the established French cooking preeminence -- as defined by and in
New York, died. About 20 years ago California led the homegrown movement.
“If you look at New York City haute cuisine restaurant menus
40 or 50 years ago, we can see those menu items no longer exist. There was a complexity of that era that
diners and chefs no longer wanted to pursue. Today’s menus are not based on the
The “aha” is that the old ways were so powerful and so
persuasive in New York that it was only natural that it would take more time
for the premiere, entrenched – and popular – dining traditions to take so long
to eventually fall away.
Its very success meant it would take more than a passing fad
to render the status quo to the culinary history archives.
The Cookbooks as Works of Art panel
spotlights cookbooks that “featurerecipes with hard-to-source ingredients or professional-grade equipment, (that)
may be faithful records of what goes on in restaurant kitchens, but they often
seem intentionally too complex for the home cook. As a result, these books
function as totems, signs that the owner is interested in and knowledgeable
about trending food culture. Some recent examples include: the El Bulli books,
Alinea, Momofuku, Modernist Cuisine, NOMA, The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. We are
interested in the implications of the popularity of these books, where food is
no longer really presented as nourishment, but rather as something more akin to
Recognizing that most cookbook authors and food writers toil
away in a more or less solitary environment, the conference is a singular
opportunity for food writers to come together to learn about the future of
They are passionate about their art.
But they may be in the dark or frightened about the rapid
pace of change technology is delivering to their craft.
Smith is also quick to point out that unlike other
conferences where the food is undeniably bad, attendees were over the moon
about the delicious, exquisite food as prepared by Daniel Mowles, Chef de
Cuisine at the Roger Smith Hotel’s Lily’s Restaurant. Chef Daniel shops local too – He shows off
his street smarts at The Union Square Greenmarket. You can bet there won’t be a green bean almandine
anywhere on the menu!
Think you are satiated following New York Restaurant Week?
video of Chef Mowles, chef de cuisine, Roger Smith Hotel
Gotham is just getting started.
The hunger for food news, culinary history and politics,
master chefs is kicking into high gear at The Roger Smith Cookbook Conference,
If you are a foodie and/or a professional cookbook author
and food writer in any of the myriad food cultures, you cannot miss this
This Examiner predicts The Roger Smith Cookbook Conference
will be to food writing as the legendary Frankfurt Book Fair has been to the
general publishing marketplace.