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Mar 13, 2012 06:21 PM

Chefs' cookbook ghost writers

Not only are they usually underpaid and uncredited, they sometimes are expected to do all the work with zero input from the named author:

Not too different from what some of us might suspect in certain cases.

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  1. I expect the chefs to write the cookbooks themselves about as much as I expect them to be working in their kitchens every night, which is to say not at all.

      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

        Just goes to prove that you're likely either a chef (which she isn't) or a writer.

        1. re: ferret

          Agreed. Her knife skills make me barf.

        2. re: Caitlin McGrath

          No one seems to be buying Rach's denial. (other than her paid blogger)

          1. re: Firegoat

            Does it matter whether RR's current recipes - in books or show - are entirely her own or not? She came to fame as a recipe presenter, in classes, books, and TV. As long as the current stuff matches the old, who's complaining.

            On the other hand if someone buys a Batalli cookbook, under the impression that he's getting recipes as cooked on ICA or in one of his restaurants, with all the insight and skill of the chef author, they would have reason to be disappointed if they learned most of the content came from a ghost writer. In this hypothetical example the purchase was based on a reputation of the chef, not the reputation of the cookbook author(s).

            1. re: paulj

              Of course not. It only matters if she denies it and is lying. I don't like her for her cooking, I find her annoying but I have heard that she is a workaholic and busted her butt to become a success so I have nothing but respect for that.

        3. Saw this article this morning and came here expecting to see a robust discussion from the Home Cooking crowd. I thought it not only interesting, but mostly true to my limited experience in the business--Rachel Ray's disclaimer notwithstanding. I suspect a lot of HC, and especially COTM, folk might be interested. Is there some way, Caitlin, that you could post a link there with a heads up to here?

          1. I learned about this side of cookbook writing when following the flap over the Paltrow BA cover. I think GP acknowledges Julia Turshen's role in the foreword of the book, including the fact that Julia had tested all the recipes.

            Julia as also written about coauthoring this book.

            As noted Turshen worked on the Spain road book, and more recently on the Kimchi Chronicles.
            She's also blogs and write articles

            The involvement of an author like this explains why GP's cookbook has generally received good reviews from buyers. The recipes have been tested and work. In contrast, there are lots of complaints about recipes in Mario Batali's books not working.

            2 Replies
            1. re: paulj

              I have only used one of Batali's books, and the recipes worked very well. Several of his books have been Cookbooks of the Month on Chowhound over the years, and reports on the whole have been very positive, with no real complaints about recipes not working. Perhaps chowhounds' experiences have differed from those of the public at large.

              I have noticed that a number of 'name' chefs known for the fame of their restaurants who've put out books do have collaborators whose credits are featured prominently on the book covers, but I suspect that some collaborators command credit because they are well known and respected for their cookbook writing - people like Melissa Clark, who have played that role many times, but may have started out in the unsung situation the article describes.

              1. re: paulj

                Very surprised to read your comments about Mario Batali's recipes "not working" paulj. I have all his books and have cooked extensively from most of them. I can only think of one recipe that didn't do it for us and it had nothing to do with the recipes ingredients or instructions, just our own preferences in terms of another variation of the dish.

                Also, I echo Caitlin's recollection of the Batali COTMs. These were not months where folks took issue w the recipes.

                His books also seem to enjoy fairly overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon as well.

              2. This parenthetical comment stood out:
                "(The authors most likely to write and thoroughly test their own work are trained cooks who do not work in restaurants, like Molly Stevens, Deborah Madison and Grace Young, and obsessive hobbyist cooks like Jennifer McLagan and Barbara Kafka.)"

                Often when TV cooking hosts are discussed, someone will pipe up with the correction: 'So and so is just a cook, not a chef'. In part it's a defense of the 'chef' profession, but there is also the implication that being a chef gives more status and authority on TV, not just in the professional kitchen.

                2 Replies
                1. re: paulj

                  So is your point that maybe we should rethink this habit of giving more credibility to the so-called "real" chef in these situations? You get a book by Paula Wolfert, you know it's a Paula Wolfert recipe. You get a Batali book (or watch his show) and you get a recipe developed by god only knows whom.

                  1. re: MelMM

                    It's not so much about who the recipe belongs to. Paula is a collector of recipes, not an inventor. But the care in writing and testing could well be higher when done by some one like Paula, as opposed to Mario and his ghostwriter. A big-name chef might have great ideas that work well in the restaurant kitchen, but it takes some effort, on the part of the chef and/or the ghostwriter/tester, to translate those into recipes that a home cook can use.