World’s Strangest

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Cookbook Ghostwriters

In this age of the celebrity chef, recipes and cookbooks are cranked out constantly, at a pace no single chef can keep up with. So they have a retinue of cooks, writers, and other support staff who work behind the scenes. Julia Moskin writes about what it’s like to stay in the shadows, and talks with other ghost writers.

In his first assignment, another writer I know had to produce a book on Japanese cuisine based on two interviews with a chef who spoke no English.

“That,” he said, “was the moment that I realized cookbooks were not authoritative.”

“Write up something about all the kinds of chiles,” one Mexican-American chef demanded of me, providing no further details. “There should be a really solid guide to poultry,” a barbecue maven prescribed for his own forthcoming book. (After much stalling, he sent the writer a link to the Wikipedia page for “chicken.”)

At the most extreme level, a few highly paid ghostwriter-cooks actually produce entire books, from soup to nuts, using a kind of mind-meld that makes it possible not only to write in the voice of another human but actually to cook in his or her style — or close enough. One recent best-selling tome on regional cooking was produced entirely in a New York apartment kitchen, with almost no input from the author.

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(Image credit: Owen Smith)

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March 17th, 2012

Stranger to the World


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