Stephen Jardine: Chefs book a place for posterity

'Delia Smith's Christmas is now permanently stuck together with spilt treacle and stray mixed peel'. Picture: PA
'Delia Smith's Christmas is now permanently stuck together with spilt treacle and stray mixed peel'. Picture: PA
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THE other day my kitchen bookshelf collapsed. Little wonder. For years it has been straining under the weight of an assorted collection of the useful, useless and the unopened.

Just like TV cooking, cook books are an excuse to look without touching.

To be fair, some have put in good service down the years. The Nigel Slater books all have regular outings from the shelf to the dangerous world of beside the cooker. The Nigella books all have turned down pages indicating recipes that have worked and can be tried again. And the baking section of Delia Smith’s Christmas is now permanently stuck together with spilt treacle and stray mixed peel.

Then there are the less loved. I can honestly say Gordon Ramsay’s Best Menus has never been opened and stays on the shelf only because of it’s fly swatting properties in the summer.

Big names and expensive marketing campaigns don’t make great cook books. There needs to be a simple ingredient that makes them indispensable.

Nigel Slater is often at the top of the pile because his simple recipes deliver food we all want to eat. Similarly, Simon Hopkinson twins chef techniques with simple recipes we can all try and enjoy at home.

Scotland’s own Sue Lawrence has a collection of great cookery books under her belt and a new one in the oven.

She writes recipes you like to read. Simple tips like, don’t answer the phone at this point or the dish won’t work, is advice we all appreciate.

With all these books out there you would think there would be little space for anymore. Tell that to the publishers.

Even in a tough market for publishing, at this time of the year cookery books still shift in huge quantities, and this Christmas sees a battle to be top of the bestseller list between some of the biggest names in food.

The big guns this year include Jamie Oliver, Paul Hollywood, Lorraine Pascale and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. Straight away you’ll spot they all have something in common.

Without TV exposure, cook books simply don’t become best sellers. To reach the mass audience, the marketing support of a six-part series is vital.

That said, price matters too. Most of the main contenders this year have £20 to £25 cover prices but are available online for less than half price.

My tip for a top seller this year is not one of the established big names. When it comes to cooking on TV, Tom Kerridge was the unexpected hit of the year with his unbridled enthusiasm for proper pub food.

That comes across in the book and will help propel it up the sales charts.

I’m spending this weekend fixing my kitchen book shelf and hoping for a copy of Historic Heston but at £125 a copy, it might be one for Santa.