I’ve been reading cookbooks obsessively since I was a child, and having the chance to write one of my own has been a lifelong dream. I knew that I’d never write a “plain cookbook” — if you want recipes, check the internet. The ones that always appealed to me were the ones with stories of distant lands, or elegant parties, or at the very least multipage instructionals on how to fold a napkin into a swan.
Unfortunately the only thing I can turn a cloth napkin into is a wad.
And being from Brooklyn — not the trendy side, mind you — this means my “elegant parties” usually involved a keg of Miller High Life and a six-foot-hero. As for distant lands…does New Jersey count?
But this would not be something that would dissuade me from writing a cookbook. I’ve worked hard in in my decade long career to become one of the most respected people in my profession. I’ve built a well-known bakery in New York City, the most competitive food market in the country, during the Great Recession. I’ve become, dare I say it, a Q-list food celebrity.
I’ve also become mainly associated with our most popular item — cupcakes. You know, the dessert that was “over in 2001.” The one there had been 10,000 books written about. The one people were, to put it mildly, not remotely interested in publishing yet another book about. Hell, I’m not sure if I even wanted to see another cupcake book on the shelves of my local bookstore. I knew I wouldn’t end up being one of the countless Brooklyn “artisans” who just got handed a book deal by some random person walking down the street who knew there was a market for a tome about fish-pickling at home. There would be actual work involved.
I began writing anywhere that would have me. First on my blog, then on other people’s blogs, and always shooting my mouth off on Twitter. This last one got me my agent, who probably has a smarter mouth than I do.
And the first place I took her to illustrate my point was the cookbook section of Barnes & Noble.
“Look at that wall of books. See if you can pick out the baking shelf.”
“Let me see…is it the one that’s all pink?”
My agent and I began to make a list of what we did and didn’t want the book to be. We didn’t want it to be pink, or baby blue, or kitschy, or a novelty, or a “humor” book. What we did want was to write was a serious baking book, for, well, chicks like us. And by that, I mean really, really awesome chicks. And some dudes, too, but mostly chicks who like snarky, sassy, funny writing, who have brains and crave information that’s presented in a fun and accessible way. There are millions of women in this country who are smart, like edgy, sophisticated humor, and yes, also like to cook and eat. Girls who like sports and movies like Dumb & Dumber, who can quote episodes of The Simpsons, wrote ‘zines when they were teenagers, were or wished they were in a band, and feel sexy as all hell in jeans and a t-shirt but can still put on a short skirt and heels and KILL it. Where was our cookbook with lots of curse words and comic strips mocking the French?
The more we talked about it, about our story, about the kind of book we’ve wanted to see for ages and didn’t, we realized there were lots of voids in the cookbook market that we wanted to fill. I was going to write a book for:
● People who love to bake but want to know more about HOW the process works rather than just a book full of recipes and pretty pictures
● People who have never baked, or really suck at it and want to learn not only how to do it, but to understand what they’ve been doing wrong in an entertaining way.
● Dudes who want to learn to bake something to help them get laid, but can’t make it past the back cover of most baking books.
● People who are interested in getting a behind the scenes glimpse of such exciting things as: owning your own business, working with your spouse without murdering them, juggling a business with your marriage while raising two children under the age of five without a nanny or trust fund, trying to keep your head above water during a recession, bouncing back after you lose everything and still managing to become one of the most buzzed about brands in the internationally known Brooklyn food scene, growing up and surviving in New York City, being a professional chef, and learning about the various conspiracy theories I have about the Catholic church and robots.
I worried it would be a hard sell, that no one would believe in our scrappy little book, that if I got any interest at all, they’d make me scrap all my jokes and four-letter words and write something traditional and gooey and oh-so-cutesy-wootsey.
Penguin didn’t want cutesy. They have understood from the very beginning that this wasn’t a “Plain ol’ cookbook.” From the language to the boundary pushing jokes, to our supremely odd cookbook trailer, we’re pushing way past the point of merely a collection of recipes, and into something different.
In their words: a cookbook like none you’ve ever seen before.