/ Food & Drink

Celebrity cookbooks – are they a recipe for culinary success?

Antique books on a shelf

From Jamie Oliver to Gok Wan, famous faces sell cookbooks like hotcakes. Are you prone to ‘doing a Delia’, or are your celebrity cookbooks gathering dust on a shelf?

Almost half of celebrity cookbooks are never used by home cooks, according to recent research from Saclà. The study found a typical home has ten cookbooks, of which four have never been used.

This certainly rings true for me. I have around 15 cookery books, yet only a handful of these are used with any regularity. They’re far from ‘celebrity’ titles – Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookery Book is a favourite, as is Clare Macdonald’s Seasonal Cooking.

Some cookbooks, while they make great reading in their own right (Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries lived by my bedside for weeks), have almost never been used for cooking. And a copy of Rachel Khoo’s Little Paris Kitchen is in the same pristine condition as it was on the day it was bought.

Add a pinch of chervil and some tatsoi leaves…

Intimidating, overly-complicated recipes and the cost of ingredients are major factors for cookery books gathering dust. Most of us haven’t time to make a special trip to buy obscure ingredients, and in reality few can live up to the standards of a professionally-trained chef who advocates starting preparations two days in advance. Not to mention assembling your own smokery!

If I want to make something special, and if I’m cooking for other people, I might reach for my cookbooks, or if I need guidance on a particular dish or technique. Mainly though, I only open them when I have an ingredient that needs using up. And with millions of recipes available online, the internet is an increasingly popular option. More than half of all home cooks search for recipes online based on ingredients they happen to have in the fridge.

The cookbook compulsion

Yet our appetite for recipe books doesn’t seem to be diminishing. For some, recipe book collecting is almost a compulsion – Nigella Lawson has confessed to a library of more than 4,000. They present a world of beautiful food and culinary talent that’s hard to resist. After all, I may not need any more recipe books, but it won’t stop me wanting to add Yottam Ottolenghi’s latest to my collection.

How many recipe books do you own, and do you have any that you’ve never opened? Do you have a dog-eared, flour-flecked favourite that you always turn to? If you’re looking to add to your collection, what’s on your recipe book wish list?

Comments
Member

I have noticed that Conversations relating to celebrities seem to attract little attention. For example, the one asking whether professional chef gadgets are worth the money has not elicited a single comment in the past six days.

If someone puts their name to a book or a product, they are likely to gain sales – so why not offer products at a discount rather than charging a premium. I’m prepared to respect anyone who is good at their job but they are probably being paid enough without further exploiting the public.

Celebrity cookbooks half price please.

Member
Richard says:
16 January 2013

I think it depends on the cookbook. Those that have exotic ingredients and require long preparation times tend to sit on the shelf, but those that are quick, simple, and tasty get used frequently. I would also say that now I use cookbooks less and less because I can find great recipes on the internet for free.

Member
Nicola says:
16 January 2013

So true, what you say about recipe books gathering dust. I have about 32 recipe books, of which 2 are dog-eared, food-stained, one only held together by an elastic band. I turn to these books again and again, and they have never let me down. Both are by the utterly brilliant, incomparable Katie Stuart who wrote a cookery column for The Times newspaper in the 70s. Every single recipe of hers works EXACTLY as she says it will. All are simple and delicious. I’ve looked at all my other books from time to time, and used them almost never. Still like owning them, though!

Member
Anna says:
16 January 2013

I absolutely agree – as a student, even with all the time and best intentions in the world, come a dinner with friends I’m not going to be inclined to whip out the shallot and kaffir lime leaves and start preparing a curry that takes up the better part of a day. My most used cookbooks are in fact the ones aimed at students, with quick, cheap, simple recipes. Ideally with easy-to-follow photos.
Yet despite knowing this I have still made a new years resolution to Learn To Cook Properly, and even have my own copy of Rachel Khoo’s “Little Paris Kitchen” (still however sitting pristine and unopened after Christmas).

Member

That’s a great new year’s resolution, Anna! I agree with you about student cookbooks – their accessible, frugal style often guarantees they’ll be useful long after graduation… How funny that we both have the same book, too 🙂

Member
Frappetout says:
16 January 2013

Cookbooks are like cones and wire coat hangers – they multiply and breed in the darkness and lo! a tribe of them has appeared over the horizon when you next look again on the bookshelf…

Member
Stuart says:
16 January 2013

We own over 70 cookbooks and last year my wife challenged me to cook from all of them or get rid of them. That was a great exercise as made us realise we really didn’t need some of them, as well as getting us cooking quite different food. You also spot if you buy a few books from our chef, they do start to repeat themselves (Jamie Oliver being a prime example). The main challenge we had though was when we came to Gordon Ramsey’s Chef book with recipes from his star restaurant…this year keeping it simple and just trying to cook everything from Nigel Slater’s new Kitchen Diaries…

Member

Your point about chefs repeating themselves is interesting. As you say, it’s the kind of thing you’d only really notice by cooking your way through their books. What an informative, delicious challenge!

Member
Cher Jackson says:
16 January 2013

Well I am definitely in the category of storing more cookbooks that I use.
I have to say I think the idea of access to recipes that convert the odds and ends from the larder and the fridge to a delicious meal sound just what I need. Eating for one, I find myself throwing food away which is a terrible thing to do.
Great article.