We launched a special series (and some news)
Catch up on Behind The Spine, our special four-part series all about how cookbooks are made! Plus: James Beard nominees and more.
It’s been a while since I’ve been in your inbox — so hi!
Things have been a little quieter on the Salt + Spine front as I welcomed the newest little cookbook lover to the world: my second daughter, Poppy. She surprised us a month early, and we’ve been settling in and adjusting to life with two little ones.
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In the meantime, as you avid listeners are surely very aware, I handed the pod reigns over to our wonderful producer, Clea Wurster, who’s been supporting Salt + Spine behind the scenes for over a year now. While we always want to bring you great, in-depth conversations with your favorite cookbook authors, we wanted to go a little deeper this spring, too.
And behold — a new special series!
Salt + Spine: Behind The Spine
In these fun, relaxed chats, Clea talks to some of the talented folks who help turn the jumble of recipes, stories, and photos into the beautiful, polished cookbooks lining our shelves.
I hope you’ll have a listen to these episodes — catch up on them here!
Behind the Spine, Episode 1: The Recipes
Featuring Lidey Hueck + Maria Zizka
For the first episode in this series, Clea uncovers the nuts and bolts of writing foolproof recipes—and how complex restaurant recipes are adapted to our home kitchens—with two guests:
Maria Zizka is a Bay Area local and cookbook author (listen to our 2019 interview with her here!) who also worked as a recipe tester on a number of beloved cookbooks including some of Yotam Ottolenghi’s works, Tartine, and more. Maria has published three of her own cookbooks: The Newlywed Table; Boards, Platters, Plates; and One-Bowl Meals.
Lidey Hueck is a self-proclaimed passionate home cook who spent several years testing Ina Garten’s recipes. She’s now a contributor to New York Times Food and is working on her first cookbook; you can find Lidey’s recipes at New York Times Cooking and on her blog.
Behind the Spine, Episode 2: The Photos
Featuring Nik Sharma + Eva Kolenko
In the second installment, Clea is joined by two photographers, Eva Kolenko and Nik Sharma, to talk about the trends they’re seeing in the industry, what they’re thinking about when they’re shooting a recipe, and how the photography process unfolds, from mood board to publication.
Eva Kolenko has shot over 30 cookbooks, including East Bay Cooks and Food Between Friends. Her work has also been featured in many advertising campaigns and magazines. Eva joined our interview from her new studio in Petaluma, California, and shared with us how she moved into food photography, what happens when she hits a creative block, and broke down the process of photographing a cookbook from brainstorming to wrap day.
Nik Sharma is a cookbook author, food blogger, and photographer of his own cookbooks, Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food, and The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained in More Than 100 Essential Recipes. Nik began food blogging while he was still working full-time as a molecular biologist. When Nik got his first cookbook deal, he knew he wanted to photograph and style the book himself, but had no idea how to get started. So, he reached out to photographers until one let him shadow a project: Eva! Nik has shot all the photos for his blog and his two cookbooks. He’s also shot many photos for his recipes that have appeared in numerous food publications from the New York Times to Serious Eats.
Behind the Spine, Episode 3: The Design
Featuring Frances Baca + George McCalman
In this third installment of the series, hear from the folks who bring that content together into one book: the designers.
We’ll start with a peek into the mind of Frances Baca. She’ll teach us about typographic details that can set a book apart from the rest, how she begins a new design project, and the characteristics that make cookbook design special. Frances designed her first cookbook at 7-years-old: “Snacks,” the homemade cookbook, featured a green construction paper cover with a yarn binding. She studied design at Rhode Island School of Design, where she learned to pay close attention to the minuscule details that can make books so special. She talks about sticking up for her readers and the unique challenge of designing a cookbook, which she says ought to be a multi-sensory experience. Because cookbooks are also practical books that we use in our day-to-day lives, Frances stresses the importance of accessibility in her work: everything from making the font large enough to read to ensuring the spine lays flat on the countertop.
You’ll also hear from the San Francisco-based artist and graphic designer, George McCalman. His work spans different industries, but he focuses mostly on clients in food media and the art world. He opened the doors to his own design studio, McCalman Co. in 2011, where he works on branding for clients and does projects like cookbook design. Prior to starting his own business, he worked for award-winning magazines including ReadyMade, Mother Jones, and Entertainment Weekly. Today, we zoom in on his design process for Black Food, the first publication from cookbook author Bryant Terry’s imprint, 4 Color Books. George talks to us about flipping the traditional design model upside down, facilitating collaboration between all the folks on the creative team, and how he views his role as a graphic designer: as a steward of information.
Behind the Spine, Episode 4: Getting Published
Featuring Dianne Jacob + Rica Allanic + Monika Woods
In the fourth and final (for now) episode of the Behind The Spine series, Clea looks at the process of getting published.
You’ll hear from food writing coach Dianne Jacob along with two literary agents, Rica Allannic and Monika Woods.
Each of our guests sat down with our producer, Clea Wurster, for a one-on-one interview to get to the bottom of our question: how exactly does a cookbook get published? From proposal to negotiations over the cover design, these experts break it down for us.
Dianne Jacob (author of Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Restaurant Reviews, Articles, Memoir, Fiction and More) shared the ins and outs of actually sitting down and writing, from breaking up the workload to making the initial decision to writing the cookbook. She says it isn’t for the faint of heart: it’s a lot of work. But, like us, she’s a cookbook lover and has devoted her professional career to helping cookbooks get agents and publishers. Dianne breaks down the process of getting published, giving advice to authors, and sharing insights into how the publishing industry has shifted over the last few years.
Monika Woods is a literary agent, food writing lover, and the founder of Triangle House literary magazine. She shared with us how she views herself in relation to the projects she’s working on, how the agent’s role has shifted with the rise of social media, and the role it’s played in diversifying the publishing landscape.
Rica Allannic, who has spent time in professional kitchens, was an editor at Clarkson Potter until five years ago when she made the decision to become a literary agent. As an agent, Rica says she has more of an influence on the types of cookbooks that get published. Rica talks with us about the three things a good cookbook pitch needs, advocating for her clients, and the financial realities of publishing deals.
• • •
We’re so excited to share these behind-the-scenes chats from the cookbook industry.
Do you want to hear more episodes like these? Who else should we call up to #TalkCookbooks? Leave a comment to let us know!
James Beard Award Nominees
A big congrats to all the Salt + Spine guests recognized with cookbook award nominations from the James Beard Foundation! (The Foundation will announce winners at their Media Awards in Chicago in June.)
Nigella Lawson for Cook, Eat, Repeat: Ingredients, Recipes, and Stories (General, Ecco) | Listen to my chat with Nigella—the first-ever episode of Salt + Spine!—here.
Priya Krishna, with David Chang, for Cooking at Home: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Recipes (And Love My Microwave)
(General, Clarkson Potter) | We sat down with Priya in 2019.
Hawa Hassan with Julia Turshen for In Bibi’s Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean (International, Ten Speed Press) | Hawa joined us to discuss In Bibi’s Kitchen here; and check out our 2018 and 2021 episodes with Julia.
Nik Sharma for The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained + More Than 100 Essential Recipes (Reference, History, and Scholarship, Chronicle Books) | Check out my chat with Nik on his debut cookbook, Season.
Brandon Jew and Tienlon Ho for Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown: Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food (Restaurant and Professional, Ten Speed Press) | Brandon and Tienlon joined me last fall to discuss their book; listen here.
Hetty McKinnon for To Asia, With Love: Everyday Asian Recipes and Stories from the Heart (Vegetable-Focused Cooking, Prestel Publishing) | Hetty joined us to discuss To Asia and her other books here.
Some Salt + Spine’ers are on the Shortlist for the revered Art of Eating Prize, too! Congrats Abra Berens (Grist), Yasmin Khan (Ripe Figs), and Sheldon Simeon (Cook Real Hawai’i — airing soon!).
A Little Extra
A few more things!
Past Salt + Spine guests Kate Leahy, Molly Stevens, and Andrea Nguyen (plus Kristin Donnelly) have a new podcast to “dish up insights & answer Qs about books & cooking.” Listen + subscribe here!
That’s it for today.
Stay tuned — our regular episodes are back next week.
Brian & Clea