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Food special: Masala mix for the Indian cookbook

As cookery shows hog airtime on television and digital formats, does the humble cookbook stand a chance? Krutika Behrawala gets to the bottom of the pot

Flip through the pages of TV personality Kunal Vijayakar’s maiden book, Made In India, and you will be engulfed by the aromas of desi home-cooked food. From Bhindi Fatafat to Hingatelache Vatane, the writer has curated a range of dishes based on his travels during the eight-year-long TV show, The Foodie, as well as the lesser-known variations from family and friends.

Aharam, published by Roli Books, will hit the stands this year
Aharam, published by Roli Books, will hit the stands this year

A far cry from recipe compilations, it includes facts on the dishes, with tons of Vijayakar-style humour. He says, “While the original plan was to write a travelogue, Jaico (the publishers) felt that a recipe book would be relatable as it is user-friendly. I’m not a chef, so I tried to make my writing personal, like the way I speak.”

The East Indian Kitchen published by Westland in 2011
The East Indian Kitchen published by Westland in 2011

There are many like Vijayakar. The past few years have seen an influx of new names with interesting titles. In recent times, Westland has published titles like The Sindhi Kitchen, The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking as well as books on Chettinad, Pondicherry and Muslim kitchens.

Kunal Vijayakar’s maiden book, Made In India, is inspired by his travel food show, The Foodie
Kunal Vijayakar’s maiden book, Made In India, is inspired by his travel food show, The Foodie

Gautam Padmanabhan, CEO, Westland, says, “While cookbooks probably comprise just 2-3% of the market, it is a vibrant, if niche, genre. It is also a genre that is less impacted by the growth of digital format, judging by the number of new titles that hit the stands each year.”


*Source: Crossword Bookstores across India

Still relevant
In the digital age, where most recipes are available online, one would assume that this genre would take a hit. Not quite, say Indian publishers. Caroline Newbury, VP, Marketing and Corporate Communications at Penguin Random House India, asserts, “In the digital age, cookbooks, like all books, still have a strong relevance.

On a practical point, while some may like to browse for recipes on the Internet, it can be tricky trying to cook from a laptop or phone in the kitchen for fear of spilling ingredients on your device.” Priya Kapoor, Editorial Director at Roli Books, feels the same. “This segment is a strong and consistent part of our publishing programme.

On an average, we publish three to four cookbooks a year. The newer titles are better researched and produced. These days, people are also looking for verified and curated content that goes beyond the recipe. Publishers should ensure that innovative food styling, photography, design and concept is applied to produce a desirable book one which people will want to buy or gift,” she reasons.

In the pipeline are Family Secrets: The Khan Family Cookbook by Zarine Khan, Aharam: The Complete Tamil Nadu Cookbook as well as books on dining with the Nawabs, a vegan cookbook and another on Mumbai’s Irani cafes.

The taste trend
Facing competition from television and the digital medium, publishers are changing their strategies to ensure that only the creme de la creme of books hits the stores. Akash Shah, Managing Director, Jaico Publishing House, observes, “The trend is towards four-colour, chef-driven (especially chefs with TV shows) books as is the overseas trend. Also, food with travel and adventure is a direction to explore. High-end books on royal or elite cuisines are also popular.”

Pack in the flavours
From weaving a narrative to offering memoirs, family and community histories as well as notes on customs alongwith vibrant images and illustrations publishers are pulling out all stops to give the modest cookbook a makeover. Kapoor says, “They also work as a great repository of information that is passed down orally.

For Dining With Maharajas, we spoke to old cooks and family members who recounted stories of how food used to be prepared; in most cases, the recipes had not been recorded on paper. We work closely with photographers. The design and packing should also be appealing for people to want to buy the book.”

The ‘C’ factor
With the buzz around Indian and international cookery shows, celebrity chefs like Vicky Ratnani, Vikas Khanna and Kunal Kapur have become household names. Little surprise then that they are the go-to names for publishers to increase sales of cookbooks.

Ratnani’s Vicky Goes Veg (published by HarperCollins India), which made it to this year’s Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, was inspired by his TV show. He says, “Since my TV show was a success, it made me pen down Vicky Goes Veg.”

Padmanabham seconds this, “TV is helping sell more cookbooks. It’s ‘cool’ to experiment in the kitchen, even for men. In a bookstore, you will find titles from Indian and foreign TV stars that help extend the concept of mixing instruction and leisure.”

Experts like pastry chefs, nutritionists as well as home chefs are also roped in by publishers. “For a cookbook, the criteria for saleability is like other books. TV cookery shows definitely add to the interest in an author as seen with Vikas Khanna and Kunal Kapur. But we also publish others who have an expertise in their field, like Pooja Dhingra’s The Big Book of Treats,” elaborates Newbury.

A sweet future
The future is bright as long as one is selective and brings out well-produced and aggressively marketed books, believes Shah. Celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor, with over 175 books in several languages, sums it up: “It’s all about reaching out to more people and sharing our experiences with food.

Earlier, people would be interested in just eating, but now there is enthusiasm about cooking it too. Globally and within our country, the demand for a recipe book showcasing good Indian cuisine is undying.”

Top 5 cookbooks of 2014

1. The Big Book Of Treats
- Pooja Dhingra (Penguin Books India)

2. Cupcakes And Brownies
- Nita Mehta (Nita Mehta Books)

3. Young Chefs
- Vikas Khanna (Penguin Books India)

4. Eggless Cakes & Muffins
- Nita Mehta (Nita Mehta Books)

5. Unjunked: Healthy Eating for Weight Loss
- Suman Agarwal (Jaico Publishing House)

What’s cooking?

6%
Sales contributed by cookbooks to overall books business

1%
Growth in cookbook sales from 2013

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