Sunday, March 27, 2011

Interview with "Cookbook Fetish" cookbook reviewer!

Welcome Julie Wallace, cookbook blogger and host of Cookbook Fetish!

Overwhelmed by her cookbook collection, each week Cookbook Fetish tries recipes from a single cookbook and writes about her experience. And the photos are luscious.
Let’s talk to Julie and see how “reviewing” cookbooks work.

Amber: How do you choose a recipe to cook as a sample from a cookbook?

Julie: First, I browse the book and see what catches my eye and my tongue or imagination. What recipe tickles my fancy? And what is my fancy, anyway? 

Generally, though, as I'm reading I make a list of interesting recipes, then narrow it down to the 3-5 that I will cook and write about. I try to get a cross-section of recipes: an appetizer, a main dish, a dessert or some combination like that. I feel this gives the reader a better understanding of the essence of the cookbook.

And, unlike a lot of food blogs, I don't post many recipes due to copyright issues. It takes a lot of work to type each and every recipe out exactly as it's written in the book, or to chase down the publisher or writer for permission to use the recipe.  Some recipes you'll be able to tell how to prepare the dish based on what I'm writing, while with others you may need to get a copy of the cookbook for yourself. 

Amber: What about the literary aspects of a cookbook?

Julie: Funny you should ask that. I just picked up a copy of a decidedly literary cookbook: Kafka's Soup: A Complete History of World Literature in 14 Recipes. It is a parody, complete with recipes and recipe instructions written in the style of authors Jane Austen, Raymond Chandler, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, Graham Greene and others. Literature and cookbooks go together very well.

I can't tell you how many lovely meals I've had with a novel of some sort for a companion. I also couldn't begin to count the number of cookbooks I've poured through, eating up every word to learn techniques or savor the flavor vibrating in the descriptions. In the course of a long day, I can easily devour an entire novel - why would a cookbook be any different? 

Amber: How is reviewing a cookbook different than a review of other books?

Julie: Books tickle the imagination. If you're reading a novel, you are actively participating in the formation of the story, albeit the story is in your head. You see the characters and the locations - even if you've never been to Istanbul or New York or Savannah before. The same is true with reviewing cookbooks, except I get to literally try out the story the chef is telling through recipes. For example, I recently reviewed the Tupelo Honey Cafe cookbook. Tupelo Honey Cafe is in Asheville, North Carolina and prides itself on organic, local ingredients, even maintaining an organic farm just outside of Asheville to supply the restaurant. So the story of the cookbook weaves in and around these fresh ingredients as well as imbues the reader with a sense of location: there are photos of Asheville through the years as well as quotes regarding the town.

Amber: What Cookbooks would you recommend for a basic cookbook collection?

Julie: Everyone needs one basic cookbook that covers everything. For that purpose, I'm a big Joy of Cooking fan and, despite the messy history the book has, and rely on it often. I learned to cook vegetarian using The New Laurel's Kitchen. For exploring the complexities and possibilities of flavor, check out The Flavor Bible - simply reading the various combinations makes my mouth water. Also, if your favorite restaurant has a cookbook, go get it and see if you can recreate the dishes you've enjoyed while dining. Above all, get cookbooks that truly excite you!

Amber: And one more question everyone is asking: You share a name with a famous cook and a famous cooking blogger. Yes, we’ve all read and seen Julie and Julia. So, do you feel that your blog will be confusing to foodies :o) ?

Julie: (Giggles.)

Check out Cookbook Fetish
Recent cookbooks include the
I Hate to Cook Book
& The Grit
And don't miss
Red, White & Greens: The Italian Way with Vegetables 
  Backstage Pass: Catering to Music's Biggest Stars.
Leave Julie a comment.
Tell her about your favorite cookbook.


  1. Hi Cookbook Fetish,
    Do you think cooks will ever give up their print cookbooks for e-cook-books?

  2. Yes. Think about an ultrathin iPad like device at eye level where you could see the recipe & free up counter space. Each recipe might have an instructional video, smellavision & a place for notes. You could bookmark, search for specific ingredients, maybe sync up with the inventory of local stores. I'm a book lover at heart, though, so I won't give up print cookbooks completely anytime soon.

  3. Kate, we have to eat while we write. :)