Cookbook Identity-Crisis: Is It About Me, Or The Restaurant?

#3 in a Series of Posts About the Decisions You Need to Make If You Want to Publish A Cookbook.
By Matt and Ted, Sergeants at Cookbook Boot Camp in Charleston, SC

The French Laundry Cookbook, The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook, The Big Jones Cookbook, The Balthazar Cookbook, The Hali’imaile General Store Cookbook, NOMA. If you love cookbooks and you love dining out in restaurants, you know the pleasure — and the minor miracle — of a cookbook that’s a total immersion, via words, images, recipes, in the experience of dining in that restaurant.

And if you’re a chef-owner or chef-partner who wants to write a cookbook, you’ll need to think seriously about whether you want your book to be this kind of “restaurant book” — or something else entirely.

First: Do you own your restaurant? And are you fairly certain of its longevity? If you answered YES, then great —this decision will be easier for you! But if you have partners and investors, you’ll want to make absolutely clear from the get-go that all parties are in agreement on how the business of the book flows. If you’re putting in most of the time working on the book (it will take about 2-4 years on average, from inception to publication), it stands to reason you should reap a greater share of the reward. But if you don’t spell it out from the beginning, there are loads of opportunities for misunderstanding – and we’ve seen it happen. We know a chef who put in a lot of work creating the restaurant’s cookbook and by the time it was published, he’d been relieved of his post there (obviously, not an optimal situation!). Signing on to do a cookbook is a long haul and a ton of work even when all is going well; the last thing you want to do is get stymied or change course mid-stream by the kinds of changes that are de rigeur in the business: you switched jobs; you lost your lease.

Second: Is the idea for your book larger than your establishment? Maybe you don’t want to be limited by a cookbook that’s exclusively a tribute to your restaurant and the style of cooking you do there. One great example: the award-winning Cooking In the Moment, by Andrea Reusing. Andrea is the much-laureled chef of Lantern, a fantastic Asian restaurant in Chapel Hill. And as much as we — for our own selfish reasons! — wished we had every recipe from Lantern’s repertoire on our bookshelf, Andrea clearly wanted her first book to be about her style of cooking — improvisatory and influenced by season, mood, kids, friends and colleagues, to name a few. It’s at once a very personal book, but also broader in its appeal, since it appeals to every cook at every level and doesn’t require an iota of connection with her restaurant for a reader to get satisfaction.

If you want to workshop your cookbook idea and explore more about the issues involved in making the decision whether to write a tribute to your restaurant or a cookbook with broader appeal, join us at our January 2017 session of Cookbook Boot Camp. For more info, visit

Click here to return to the first post in the series, “So You Want To Write A Cookbook!”