Who's Really Behind Your Cookbook

A new look into the creative process of cookbooks

With chefs like Anthony Bourdain, John Besh, and Mario Batali publishing a cookbook seemingly every other week, it's hard not to wonder how they do it. A new story from The New York Times unveils the secret: ghostwriters.

Julia Moskin breaks down how she and other ghostwriters (who are readily employed for celebrity memoirs and the like) work on the job. It's no piece of cake, she writes — there's the "paranoid restaurateurs" and resentful companions to chefs, awkward stances in the kitchen, low pay and zilch royalties, and a gruesome schedule. Nonetheless, they're essential to building a chef's collection of recipes. Says Wes Martin, the brains behind Rachael Ray's recipes and others, says, "The team behind the face is invaluable... how many times can one person invent a pasta dish?"

However, it's not always a mutual collaboration — or respect — between writers and chefs. One ghostwriter had to write an entire Japanese fare cookbook based on two interviews with the non-English speaking chef. Another was instructed to write a "solid guide" about chicken by the chef, whose only other input was to email a Wikipedia page on chicken. But there are exceptions. Said Bobbly Flay about his cookbook writers, "I have skills in the kitchen, but the writers keep the project on track, meet deadlines, make the editor happy." 

UPDATED: In response to the New York Times article, Rachael Ray denies using ghost writers for her cookbooks, and says the story "inaccurately implied" so. Wes Martin, she says, is a colleague who has done food styling and other work for Ray.

UPDATED: In a response to the New York Times article and to The Daily Meal article, John Besh does not use ghostwriters for his cookbooks. 

 

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