Cookbook releases often seem like movie releases these days. There's lots of anticipation, build up, and when the book comes out of the gate, it gets a big spike in attention. Then after a short spell, it's likely subsumed by the next wave of new books. That reality is contrary to an author's goal — to produce a publication that lasts and continues to contributes over time. The industry term for a classic work is “back list.” That means a publisher will keep your book around, that your toiling was not just a one time run throught the printing press.
I have the great fortune of writing about subjects that I really, really like. My publisher, Ten Speed Press, supports my projects and we craft beautiful books that we hope people will find interesting and useful for years. Into the Vietnamese Kitchen and Asian Dumplings were relatively easy to present since people have a sense of what to expect. Asian Tofu has been challenging because it’s a love-or-hate food that has long been misunderstood in the West.
What I wanted to do was tell tofu’s multifaceted story from the Asian perspective. It’s a fascinating story, but one that has to be slowly revealed; letting my tofu freak fly may be scary. For most readers, Asian Tofu offers a solid collection of recipes. I always incorporate big-picture elements into my work, history and personal stories, for example, to provide cultural context but am never quite sure how much those things matter to readers.
Enter Winnie Yang, the managing editor of The Art of Eating, a prestigious quarterly food publication that takes no advertising and operates with minimal fanfare. It’s low-key, but has fans such as Wolfgang Puck, Alice Waters, David Chang and Steve Ells (owner of Chipotle Mexican restaurants).
Winnie requested a copy of the book soon after its release in February 2012. Admittedly, I was slightly nervous and after waiting for months, figured that it didn’t make her cut since a review never appeared last year. But I should have been patient. The Art of Eating is published only four (4) times a year. Duh.
Alas, the current June 2013 issue contains Winnie’s assessment of Asian Tofu. Wow. It’s among the most thoughtful looks at my books ever, written like traditional book reviews with excerpted quotes and reactions to them. Winnie understood what I was aiming for at the micro and macro levels. Food publications don’t often have much space for spotlighting cookbooks so her review, which spans one-and-a-half pages, was amazing. Among Winnie’s comments:
So much Asian cooking relies on the remarkable diversity in type and uses of tofu and highlights its flavors, and yet incredibly, Nguyen’s is among a very few that put “tofu in its original context, as an important Asian staple that people have made, cooked, and enjoyed for centuries.” Informative, engaging, well written and researched, this is also the best book about tofu.
. . . Asian Tofu is an invaluable resource, essential for anyone who is curious about tofu, loves it, or loves Asian food.
If I weren’t squeamish about pain, I’d have parts of her review tattooed somewhere on my body. Her comments, combined with feedback from other reviewers, home cooks and professional chefs, reinforce in my mind that what we produced in Asian Tofu matters and has staying power.
For Winnie’s review, read the pdf or get a hold of the real thing, which includes reviews of Japanese Farm Food, Burma, and The Kimchi Cookbook, as well as a short list of blocal eateries in Saigon written by my friend Georgia Freedman-Wand. The Japanese book was reviewed by Karla Yukari Sakakmoto and the Burmese work was reviewed by Sarah Khan.
(Yes, it seems pricey at $13.50 but you don't have to look at drug ads. Former Gourmet editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl once said that if there were no ads in a magazine, we'd be paying about $15 an issue.)
Asia is well represented in the June issue of The Art of Eating. Where can you buy it? Bookstores mostly, though I saw the magazine at my local health food store alongside Lucky Peach, Saveur, and Culture (a cheese magazine).
Thanks for letting me share this good news with you.
By the way, what's your criteria for a classic cookbook? What's your personal back list?