Dishing Out Assists: A Metaphor for Cookbook Collaboration

(by Corbo Eng)

I’d probably start off with a joke, something self-deprecating and a bit corny—but, something, humorously grounded in truth.  It would be a move consistent for someone, like me, who has struggled so hard to get to the point where I’m standing before a real live chef who has a book to write.  Ultimately, with disbelief still lingering, I’d take nothing for granted and feel that I have so much about myself with which to poke fun. 

Chow Yun Fat

Chow Yun Fat

That I’m short and flabby might be good for a laugh; and, likely, my holding a pad and pen and dressing like a Walmart-loving lumberjack would be too.  Or, maybe, given the angle of my smile, the chef with whom I had just shaken hands might recognize that I look like Chow Yun Fat, the Hong Kong action star who, like me, disarms people with charm and good looks (well, before Father Time had something to say about it anyway).

But, soon enough, I’m sure, the chef and I would begin to talk in earnest; and, surely, with the ice melting precipitously between us—like an ice cream cone on a hot July afternoon—all kinds of biographical tidbits might, very well, be revealed: personal stories of the kind that tell me how he fell in love with cooking in the first place and, perhaps, a few daring tales of culinary intrigue and adventure, the stuff that can potentially add splash and depth to a cookbook (a story about losing a wedding ring while making sausage or how, when he was a child, he sculpted Spider-Man and other super hero characters out of Gouda cheese).

SpidermanOf course, I would take notes, which, with many ensuing meetings, might lead to a copious amount of detail to sort through.  But, that’s all good.  It would all be information that I, as well as the chef, need: vital talk about purpose, audience, thematic structure, chapter organization, recipes to include, how to incorporate photographs and other graphics (beginning with the proposal itself), the hiring of a photographer (if one hasn’t already been chosen) and, maybe, a food stylist, the book’s overall aesthetic, marketing, promotion, suggestions for the book’s title, knowledge of and research on existing competition from similar cookbooks, and all the minutiae that rings out every last drop of concept from what began as abstract talk about an, as yet, non-existent cookbook.  The conversations will be so full of anticipation and expectation that one of us might burst a blood vessel (but, hopefully, not).

John Stockton

John Stockton

We would plan, plan, and plan some more; and, I would diligently hammer out the book proposal over the course of the months ahead—while giving the chef, the agent or agents, and editor periodic updates.  It would be hard but, frankly, enjoyable work.  I know myself well; and, I’m an obsessive writer when I get into that “zone” where commitment and determination purposefully blend together.  It might be the closest I ever get to being a great athlete…like that basketball player, who performing at peak level, is blocking shots, rebounding the ball, and dishing out assists—and, in so doing, making his teammates better.

The required and unavoidable task of submitting a complete chapter from the proposed book would mean writing and testing a decent amount of recipes; and, that should bring me into the inner sanctum of the chef’s kitchen to test those recipes and work out the fine details (if a recipe tester isn’t hired to do this—and, frankly, even if one is).  There might be a lot of eating.  This is the part where I might put on some much unneeded weight: insulating weight for the winter or weight to be embarrassed by in the summer.

As the shepherding of the book continued into its final stages (with fingers crossed and after months of sweat, blood, and tears) and with the proposal done, sold (with the help of our agent), and sprinkled with magic dust of the kind that only editors and publishers, behind the scenes, employ, then…there would be a sigh of relief and some demonstrative celebrating to be had.  But, once given the green light, there would only be more work to do—and, for me, more to write: all those chapters and recipes that were originally discussed and planned. 

Michael Voltaggio

Michael Voltaggio

The recipe writing and testing that the chef and I had made manifest in the book proposal will have to be duplicated multiple times.  However, with a great proposal to guide us—and, frankly, fueled by love for our work—the path ahead, although not free of problems, would rest on my ability to write, manage, and move forward with a vision that, at that point, would have been etched in my mind or, perhaps, more properly, given the proclivity of chefs and their admirers—metaphorically tattooed on my arm.

Then, with hard work having paid off, the writing of the book would be done—finished finally.  Nothing could match the inner joy of knowing that “we did it.”  Nothing could match the satisfaction of achieving a dream.  Some time would pass before the chef or I would actually be holding the cookbook that we created in our hands, but we’d wait.  We’d have to…but, we wouldn’t mind.  Does a parent-to-be ever mind waiting nine months?  It just gives us all ample time to buy a new crib and a lot of diapers.


Copyright 2014 (Corbo Eng).  All rights reserved.

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