Have you ever read a recipe from a cookbook or magazine and wondered, "Hmmm. What do they mean by that?" If you have a question — or any comment, really — about a recipe, you should always know that the best option is simple: Get in touch with the author. This is a simple idea, but one that many people don't consider. They think that someone who wrote a cookbook (or a magazine article) is far too busy and important to answer their questions. This really is not the case.
Cookbook authors don't get into this business for money or fame (there's precious little of either!). People who write about food usually do so because they're passionate about the topic, and they're eager to pass their knowledge and curiosity on. It's a helping profession, really, and I've always found authors and recipe developers to be willing to talk.
So how do you get ahold of a cookbook author or magazine writer? How do you reach out with questions? I asked some friends who write cookbooks. Molly O'Neill (of One Big Table and onebigtable on Twitter) said:
I find I get a lot faster response when I go through their sites to reach authors than when I go through publishers.
Many authors have blogs and websites, so just Google them and see what you find! Many authors keep notes on their websites, too, of known issues with certain recipes, or even errata from books.
Molly also mentioned the power of Twitter:
If there is a group of people with questions for an author, it's easy to arrange a Twitter party so that everyone can ask and get answered in an hour or so. It's a lot of fun.
This is so true: Twitter is an amazing tool for reaching out directly — take advantage of it! Facebook pages are also a good place to connect with authors.
I've heard so many stories of people getting rich help and advice from cookbook authors. My friend Annabelle mentioned Joanne Chang (remember her kitchen tour?) of Flour Bakery in Boston:
Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery is amazing in responding to questions from home cooks. And she frequently posts photos that people send her of the recipes they've cooked from her cookbook.
This doesn't just go for authors, too; Annabelle once called Barbara Lynch of 9 Park, a famous chef in Boston, and asked her how to cook foie gras. "She talked me through the entire process. Pretty awesome."
And authors love to hear from people who made their recipes. Judy Gelman, author of the The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook (and DineLikeDraper on Twitter) says that she and her co-author love this:
We have found it very helpful to hear from readers, but especially with social media and blogs, to see their photographs of our recipes being prepared in different ways then we ever imagined — and often with very different versions of or enhancements to these recipes.
I can speak to all of this myself, too, having published one cookbook and getting ready to launch another one next year. I'm totally delighted when people ask me questions about my book here or on email. In the end, it's really all about cooking, and most cookbook authors are eager to help you do that!
Do you have any stories of reaching out to cookbook authors or chefs?
Related: Kitchen Tour: Melissa Clark's Revamped Kitchen
(Image: Dana Velden)