Massican Magazine’s Culinary issue celebrates the inspiration of five chefs from five countries. Before introducing the chefs and their work, we talked to their publisher, Emilia Terragni of Phaidon, about what it is like to work with a selection of some of the world‘s greatest artisans.
I believe it is because we make beautiful books, we published chefs well before they became superstars, and we established with some of them long term relationships that help us to create and evolve our list.
We are always looking for chefs, who not only make delicious food, but who are also creative and contribute to the evolution of contemporary gastronomy. I think the role of chefs has changed a lot in the last decade. Some of them are now influential public figures who have a voice on important issues of our time: sustainability, seasonality, climate change. We are interested in the way they think, in their stories, and in the message they want to deliver.
I have enjoyed working with all the chefs we have done books with; it is like asking which is your favorite child! They are all different and I work with them in very different ways depending on their personalities. But there are a few chefs with whom we have published more than one book and established stronger relationships – Ferran Adrià, Massimo Bottura, and Magnus Nilsson – and with whom we constantly talk about new ideas.
It normally takes between 2 and 3 years to conceive and create a book, what we tend to do is to find interesting chefs just before they become international stars. I met Ana long before she was nominated best female chef, and before the Netflix documentary. The award and all the other international recognitions were a confirmation that we had found an amazing chef.
Spoon we decided to enter the world of high gastronomy, and to do so we went straight to the top, calling up Ferran Adrià, and asking if he wanted to publish with us. We ended up doing A Day at elBulli, probably the first book to document a day in the life of a restaurant from 6am to 2am: showing the quantity of tasks chefs go through, with their brigade and at front of the house, to deliver a magical experience. The book really tells the story of the care, the skills, the passion and the love a successful and creative restaurant puts into everything they do.
Being an art publisher, we look at our cookbooks as if they were art books: amazing images, interesting texts, beautiful layouts, but also good quality paper, exceptional printing, and a great cover.
Keeping in mind that it normally takes between 3 and 4 years to put together each of these books, we look for countries that are on the edge of becoming popular for the home cook. When we published Peru, we were praised for being right on trend, but we had actually started to talk to Gaston Acurio, when Peruvian food was starting to enjoy international attention. We bring to our audience the food they want to cook, but also the food they don’t know and that they can then experience through the book.
It is important to try to lead and not just to follow existing trends, and to publish books people do not know they want until they see them. We constantly look for new ideas, both in terms of content and packaging, to keep our list fresh and desirable.
I think people don’t know the amount of work that we do on a cookbook: we carefully edit the recipes, very often rewriting them. For example, the way in which Italians write recipes is completely different from the American way. Italians tend to list the ingredients in order of importance and the methods are often missing some basic steps, that are taken for granted. When we publish the same recipes, we list the ingredients in order of appearance in the recipe, and we are very careful to make sure every single step is explained. When you have a book like the Silver Spoon, with over 2,000 recipes, it is a huge amount of work. We also spend a lot of time testing the recipes both in the USA and in Europe to make sure the conversions are correct. From a production point of view, we test cover materials, we make dummies to feel the physicality of the book, we do print tests. You definitely need a lot of expertise to produce books that are both beautiful and useful!
We started our drinks list with Regarding Cocktails, a few years ago, and the book was very successful, so we commissioned Spirited – our cocktail bible – an incredible collection of international recipes, with cocktails that go back hundreds of years But what is interesting is that Spirited is not only a recipe book, but also a reading book with very interesting stories and anecdotes about each of the cocktails. Snacky Tunes is also a very interesting reading book where Chefs talk about their favourite music, but what is really great about the book, is that when chefs talk or remember their favourite music, they actually talk about their life, their struggles, their passions. Each song is link to an emotion, or an important (or terrible) moment of their career. It is a fantastic read and you get amazing insights into chefs’ personalities.
The world will be different and less good if someone would not have invented Pizza.
The story of The Silver Spoon is symptomatic of the way we think and operate. In 2005 we met with the leading Italian design magazine Domus, to see if we could collaborate on a design book, and during the conversation, they told us they didn’t really have a design book, but they did have a cookbook called The Silver Spoon. Being Italian I knew the book very well, I knew the recipes were great – easy to make, traditional, and authentic. I had it, my mum and my grandmother had it, the book was in my family since it was published in the 1950’s. At the time we were not publishing cookbooks, but we immediately saw the quality of the product, and we threw ourselves into this wonderful adventure, and the book became one of our best sellers, and a successful franchising. And so this is our publishing approach: recognise quality, be curious, think laterally.