Where the Heck Is All the Cookbook Criticism?

Plus, the cover of Dolly Parton's new cookbook!

Howdy cookbook fans!

Let’s start today with a quote from an essay New Yorker food writer Helen Rosner tagged me on. Written by Tim Mazurek over at Lottie & Doof, it ponders a question close to my heart: where the heck is all the cookbook criticism? I fully recommend you go read Tim’s full essay, but here’s a graf that stood out to me:

This general lack of criticism creates a strange feeling void around cookbooks. It is disappointing to encounter a cookbook you really hate and have nothing to do with that energy. No space for commiseration or shared outrage, no green splotches. It can make me feel inappropriate for having such strong feelings about cookbooks. It’s just a cookbook is what the cultural response can feel like.

“It’s just a cookbook” is an attitude I run into a lot. Frankly, it’s an attitude that feels extremely gendered to me: what does it mean that we don’t take cookbooks seriously enough to formally criticize them? Are we saying they’re fluff? That they’re domestic? Feminized? Not worth analyzing? Can’t be improved? And why aren’t we celebrating the ones that get it right? Take risks? Have the audacity to be weird or ambitious or wildly creative? Why aren’t we knocking down celebrity chefs who are resting on reputations from 25 years ago while barely looking at their books? Why are we letting TikTok stars with massive followings get away with half-assed recipes? Are cookbooks not serious enough to be treated like other intellectual pursuits, like novels or film?

It’s been a long-term goal of mine to bring cookbook reviews back to this space, but there are a ton of obstacles preventing that. Namely, money. And hours in the day.

Here’s how I responded to Tim/Helen on Instagram stories: “I get pitched probably once a week from writers who’d like to write cookbook reviews for Stained Page News. Problem is, I can’t afford to greenlight them. A proper review requires recipe testing, which requires a shitload of time, and money to pay for that time and ingredients. I can’t afford that. I can’t afford to pay for MY TIME to do it, let alone a freelancer’s. Not to mention, IMO, a review program should be comprehensive. What use is one review of one book? And the wild thing is, reviews make money through affiliate sales. I’m not sure why the food media institutions aren’t doing them. Anyway, if anyone wants to invest in me (and Helen if she’s game lol) doing a robust reviews program somewhere, LMK.”

To briefly elaborate: while this here cookbook blog DOES do cookbook criticism upon occasion, it’s often broad, looking at big picture trends and recipe theory (I’ll link to some favorites at the bottom of this issue). What the cookbook-buying public needs are reviews of individual books. By professionals. Who know what they are talking about. Lots of them. Good and bad. That’s how cookbooks, as a genre, get better!

As Helen pointed on on Instagram (all the stories are gone by now, I am recapping), we both used to write reviews for Eat Me Daily and Eater. I also reviewed for Epicurious, Lucky Peach, and Food52. People love reading cookbook reviews. I loved writing them. It’s not super sustainable for one person (or two people) to review cookbooks for an outlet: readers look for different things in cookbooks, weeknight dinners and travel photography and inspiration and ambitious projects and simple ways to feed oneself and—you all know all that, if you’re here already. So for cookbook criticism to work, you have to review the bulk of titles that come out in any given season. You need to connect the books with their audience, after all, and that audience is broad.
A comprehensive reviews program would need experts in different cuisines, people from different backgrounds, writers who can speak to a wide range of subject matters.

So, yeah, if anyone has deep pockets and any interest in bankrolling such a project, holler.

And for funsies, since Helen did it, here are a couple blind items from me: 1. There is one super over-saturated topic that absolutely confounds me. Who is buying all these books? And why are editors still commissioning them?! 2. There’s a book coming out between now and fall cookbook season that will get a bunch of buzz but rumor has it the recipes are terrible and don’t work. (I haven’t seen a copy yet.) 3. I think one much-celebrated cookbook author has expanded their empire a bit too much and is in big danger of watering down the secret sauce.

And now, cookbook news!

RIP One half of the Hairy Bikers UK celebrity chef duo, Dave Myers, has died at the age of 66 from an unspecified cancer. Beginning as a TV show that spawned many spin-offs, Myers and partner Simon King wrote a couple dozen Hairy Bikers cookbooks, many highlighting their adventures motorcycling, cooking, and eating around the world. You can read an obituary here. [Guardian]

Coming Attractions: Anthony Myint! Nik Sharma! Copperspoon! A History of Italy!

  • Chef Arnold Myint, of Nashville’s International Market, to write Family Thais, along with Kat Thompson. The book will include recipes from the restaurant, classic comfort food, street food, and recipes from Myint’s parents. Abrams, pub date TBA.

  • Nik Sharma is working on his fourth (!) cookbook with Chronicle. And he’s looking for your thoughts on what you want him to explore! He writes, “there might be some Indian recipes, this isn’t an Indian cookbook.” And that’s what we’ve got for now!

  • Emily Teuscher, the woman behind TikTok’s @thecopperspoon_ (400k followers), to write The Copperspoon Chronicles, a “tavern-inspired cookbook” with 80 recipes. Skyhourse, spring 2025.

  • Dartmouth Italian professor Danielle Callegari to write A Bite-Sized History of Italy, which will argue “that the essence of an Italian identity is both metaphorically and literally discovered at the dining table.” New Press, spring 2025.

ON THE MENU Do you know these books, the In Bocca series? With cardboard covers and iconic illustrations, it’s a series of cookbooks from the late 70s. They’re incredibly hard to find, especially as a full, original set—I first heard of them when Kitchen Arts & Letters had a full set aways back. (They still have individual volumes as reissues.) Anyway, apparently the staff at Nostrana in Portland, Oregon has spent years collecting a full original set, and the restaurant is now embarking on a dinner series inspired by the books, which each dinner focusing on a different volume/region of Italy. [WW]

RECIPES WANTED! I can’t find another source for this because Google is fully useless these days (I assume it went out in their newsletter), but a friend flagged a Bluesky post that Penzey’s (the spice company) is putting together a cookbook for Mother’s Day featuring recipes from parents of trans and non-binary kids. Email [email protected]! [@aquariusxrising/Bluesky, h/t Andrea Grimes]

And now, as promised, some of my favorite pieces of SPN cookbook theory/criticism:

Okay that’s it for today! Everyone read a lil cookbook criticism this weekend! I’m gonna watch Shogun and try not to get sunburned while gardening! Ciao!


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