After a jet-lagged weekend visiting friends in London, Mike and I arrived in the City of Light on Tuesday to attend the Paris Cookbook Fair. The whole shebang began with the glittering The Gourmand Awards held this year at the deliciously gilded belle époque era theater, Les Folies Bergère. It’s a glamorous affair, and on purpose. “I wanted to give [cookbooks] glamor,” said Monsieur Edouard Cointreau, the founder of the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, at the start of the evening’s program. “Back when I started this 17 years ago, no one gave cookbooks much consideration.”
What’s striking about the Gourmand Awards is the vastness of the competition, more than 30,000 books from 162 countries. When you’re a finalist in that kind of company, it makes sense that 80 percent of the finalists actually make the trip to attend the awards event in Paris. In the course of two hours, people from at least four dozen countries as diverse as Peru, China, India, United States, Finland, Canada, Malaysia and St. Martin hit the stage to collect their awards.
Equally spectacular is the presentation. Monsieur Cointreau sits on the stage narrating every aspect of the awards. He knows all the finalists intimately and can describe each entry in detail. He went beyond the names of the finalists, but also shared knowledge gleaned as one of the few people in the world with an enduring and encompassing view on the world of culinary publishing for 17 years. “In some categories, we have hundreds of books submitted so it’s really not quite fair to compare them and come to four finalists,” he told the crowd in the red velvet-paneled theater. “So anyone who makes the finals should be proud.”
The evening started with awards for wine books, a category that Cointreau noted is now one of the best sectors in culinary publishing, “with even better demand for them than cookbooks.” You’d think that the French would dominate a wine category, but one of the intriguing notes to the evening was a striking number of American first places in this division, including See, Mix, Drink by Brian Murphy by US publisher Little Brown in the cocktail category; The Seasons of Veuve Cliquot by Stephanie Gerchel and Seasons of the Finger Lake Winery by John C. Hartsock ; The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg and The Oxford Companion to Beer by Horst Dornbusch.
In the past couple of years, the awards have included a prize for culinary apps, an area that Cointreau noted has a lot of interesting entries but still seems to be working itself out. The top spot went to the “Cooking with Dorie Greenspan” app, developed by Culinapp.
One of the evening’s highlights was the award of Cookbook of the Year to a team led by Francisco Fantini from Chile for their book Patagonian Cuisine. The group of five hit the stage with shouts and high fives wearing matching racing jackets emblazoned with the name of their book on the back. In a passionate speech, one of the authors noted that while the book was about food, it was also a political move to encourage environmental and cultural respect for Patagonia. “We wanted to show this cuisine to save this area. A book is an everlasting message that has no borders.”
Chris Ying took the stage next to claim the top prize on behalf ofU.S.-based celebrity chef, David Chang‘s quirky publication Lucky Peach in the magazine division. Clutching his red folder, he said simply, “Thank You, and Patagonia Free!”
Books focused on “easy recipes” make up about half of all books sold worldwide, Cointreau noted, making that category one of the most difficult to judge. The prize went to La Cuisine, a book packed with 1,000 simple French recipes, by Francoise Bernard, a 91-year-old legend in the French culinary world.
The first book category was won by seemingly the most improbable title on the whole program: The Angry Birds Cookbook (Finland).
Cointreau noted a growing trend for vegetarian books worldwide. “It’s an area of huge demand.” One of the special awards of the evening went to Meat Free Monday by Paul, Stella and Mary McCartney. (Yes, that McCartney clan.) In one of the most surprising offhand tidbit of the evening, Cointreau noted that fund-raising, charity and community cookbooks are probably the most widely created and distributed forms of books worldwide, with thousands produced each year. “It’s something that started in North America, but we’ve seen it blossom across the globe and now it’s become arguably among the most difficult areas to win in these awards.”
Of all the books mentioned in the evening, four of the winners in the other geographic region have now become the next food books I want to track down. They are: How to Cook a Crocodile by Bonnie Lee Black (Peace Corps Writers group), North America; Tibet, A Culinary Journey (China Tibetology Publishing); One Egg is a Fortune by Nina Jacobson and Judy Kempler; and Cook with Kids by Rob Kirby (Absolute Press). Books raising funds for refugees of the earthquake in Haiti took top prizes for the Caribbean entry.
Oh, what memories flood back when I saw the flock of Le Cordon Bleu students pouring flutes and picking up glasses at the after party, each in their student uniforms; the girls still stuck with masculine tailoring, it seems. (Edouard is brother to Andre Cointreau, who owns the Le Cordon Bleu.) By then, it was midnight. As interesting as it all was, after 2 ½ hours, Mike and I realized we were drinking free champagne on an empty stomach, never a good plan. We had not located our tickets and instead of going to dinner, we went to the theater early in case we had to grovel for entrance, but it turned out our names were on the list. At that hour, we both knew that there was only one option in our minds, Au Pied de Cochon in Les Halles. We grabbed a taxi and finished the night with a couple bowls of their speciality, soup a l’oginon. The perfect way to end a culinary evening.
Check out the full summary of all the finalists and winners at the World Gourmand Awards site.
Note: An early version of this post noted that David Chang collected the award in Paris.