Few people know the ins and outs of building restaurant brands like Elizabeth Blau. James Beard nominee and founder / CEO of restaurant development company Blau + Associates, Blau was one of the key people to transform Las Vegas into a world-class culinary destination. A graduate of Cornell School of Hotel Management, Blau began her career with famed restaurateur Sirio Maccioni. After helping Maccioni expand the Le Cirque brand to Las Vegas, Blau became the vice president of restaurant development for Mirage Resorts, where she revolutionized the food and beverage operations at the Bellagio and persuaded award-winning chefs to join the company.
In partnership with TV’s Cake Boss Buddy Valastro, Blau + Associates landed on the Las Vegas Strip in 2013 with Buddy V’s Ristorante. Blau has appeared as a judge on Food Network’s Iron Chef America, is an annual judge for Hotel Magazine’s best restaurants, and has been featured on the Travel Channel and the Martha Stewart Show. She is one of three investors on CNBC’s Restaurant Startup alongside Tim Love and Joe Bastianich.
In addition, she has recently ventured into Canada, spearheading the food and beverage concepts for the Parq Vancouver and self-published her first book, Honey Salt: A Culinary Scrapbook.
We sat down with Blau to learn more about how she built her empire of successful restaurant businesses.
What initially attracted you to the restaurant business?
Elizabeth Blau (EB): My parents are passionate foodies, they love food and wine and the arts so my sister and I were exposed to food and art at a young age. My sister became an artist and I went into the restaurant industry. Before there was even the term “celebrity chef,” I was fascinated with the talent emerging in NYC.
What were the key things you learned about hospitality at Le Cirque?
EB: I had a masters from the Hotel School at Cornell but working with Sirio Maccioni was the most amazing post graduate work. It was considered one of the best restaurants in the world. Armed with my masters degree, I was working at the front door. The person who works the door makes the first impression and is also the last person you see. It took me some time to reflect on the value of being a hostess with a masters degree, but I learned how to seat a dining room to take reservations, when there was no OpenTable. It was old school. I learned the art of being a restaurateur and diplomacy.
How did Las Vegas become a celebrity culinary destination? And how does it stay an important destination for celebrity chefs?
EB: I negotiated the deals for Le Cirque at Mirage and somewhere in the middle of the process Mr. and Mrs. Wynn stole me away to work for them. At the time Jean Louis Palladin, Emeril and Wolfgang Puck were in Las Vegas but it was a lot of $1.99 buffets and “Continental dining.” Bellagio was an extraordinary catalyst for change. You had Nancy Silverton, Julian Serrano, the Petrossian caviar bar, then the Venetian, Mandalay Bay, every restaurant was converting to a destination rather than a gambling amenity. The buffets reinvented themselves too. It was no longer just feeding the masses. But it’s off the strip where the next generation who have worked for the celebrity chefs are opening high quality places—downtown, in Summerlin, Green Valley, and that’s what makes a true culinary destination.
Remember for a lot of these guys it was before the explosion, [Michael] Mina was still working for Charles Condy at Aqua and there wasn’t a Mina company. The branding developed. The brand of Bellagio and the brand power of the chefs made them feel like independent restaurants under one roof. They were branded into destinations at the hotel.
In 2012, you and your husband opened your first solo independent venture, Honey Salt. What inspired the concept?
EB: When my husband and I decided to open it it had been one of our favorite Italian restaurants, the space was empty for some time and when we took it over we had a unique experience—like dining in our home. I’m the hostess at home, my husband is the chef at home, I did the interior design, very much the menu is a personal collection of family recipes or things we’ve created in the restaurant is personal. We didn’t want to name it after ourselves but we wanted the brand to reflect our values—to be approachable, cozy and casual. I liked the idea of food in the name. Our branding agency, 1650, based in La Jolla, suggested it and we loved the idea because we joke that one of us is the honey and the other the salt.
How have you extended the Honey Salt brand?
EB: We opened last year in Vancouver at the JW Marriott and this summer this culinary scrapbook—a unique genre of cookbooks with a personal story instead of just recipe / photo / recipe / photo, it tells a story and it shows the journey in a scrapbook format. We were in the biggest chain of bookstores in Canada—we are one of “Heather’s Picks.” We were honored to make that list. The book tied back to the branding—it’s a cohesive experience—it’s meant to be personal and from our lives.
How do cookbooks fit with your vision? Do you recommend self-publishing?
EB: I think every chef and restaurateur dreams of having a cookbook. It’s an enormous amount of work and it depends If you want to do something unconventional. I didn’t want to sell it to an editor or publisher. We didn’t go into it to make money, but as a branding and marketing extension to get [the book] around the world and into people’s homes. The cookbook tells it all—and it was a great experience.
What are the key factors in taking a brand into a non-US market such as Canada?
EB: The first thing was falling in love with Vancouver. You want to make sure it will work in a new environment. For us with a farm to table concept—the wines in the Okanagan, having access to seafood, Salt Spring island—it was always the dream, procurement and product-driven and having a partner like Marriott—a flagship brand like JW Marriott. In a beautiful new build. Pick your partners wisely. Understand your market. It has to make sense.
What insight do you have for restaurateurs who are considering TV?
EB: When we partnered with Buddy Valastro and his wife Lisa, we saw the power of TV. The location we have is tough and that power of his brand and TV and social media is incredible. TV is a lot harder than it looks. 16 hour days at the restaurant isn’t as tough as working on Restaurant Start Up. You want to make sure you’re protecting the integrity of what you’re trying to accomplish with your brand.
Have you seen the benefits of being on television?
EB: Without a doubt! When my PR submits a recipe to a magazine, there’s a pedigree behind it. It brings more credibility as well as national exposure.
What are some of the keys to successfully creating restaurant brands today?
EB: To me everything starts with authenticity—whether Shake Shack or fine dining. Successful branding comes from a place of passion—a clear vision, the uniforms, the design, the menu—so that everything flows through a solid place. A failure is often a jumble of ideas. Democracy works great in government but not in restaurant business, when everyone brings something different to the table. A singular vision gives you a shot at success.
The world watched as Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and later, as Hurricane Florence battered American coastal towns—two of many recent natural disasters to which chefs respond through World Central Kitchen. Among the destruction and loss, hope and hard work result in feeding the hungry people who remain behind, left to pick up the pieces.
José Andrés founded World Central Kitchen after the 2010 earthquake hit Haiti. He believed food could be an agent of change—today that belief has grown into a chef network improving health, contributing to education, jobs and social enterprise throughout the world in places like Brazil, Cambodia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, Zambia and the United States.
And now, the enterprising chef who has changed lives throughout the world is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, honoring his tireless efforts. The man who also received the James Beard Foundation’s award for Humanitarian of the Year (awarded to individuals or an organization in the food business who have bettered the lives of others and society at large.) Maryland U.S. Representative John Delaney confirmed he nominated Andrés for the award. And, in October 2019, the winner will be revealed.
“World Central Kitchen’s relief efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria totaled 3.7 million meals served from 26 kitchens across the island and mobilizing an army of over 20,000 chefs and volunteers,” said Erin Schrode, Chief Operating Officer for World Central Kitchen. “Most recently, in addition to WCK’s work in Puerto Rico, the team has activated for other natural disasters in Hawaii, California, Guatemala, Indonesia, and currently has served over 175,000 meals to victims of Hurricane Florence.”
It all began with Andrés’ World Central Kitchen, which has become a source of hope and healing in the aftermath of disaster, launched with a pot of stew and chef Andres serving it bowl-by-bowl to survivors who needed a meal. Schrode says his inspired efforts began when the chefs started cooking and the people came from far and wide.
“In the case of Puerto Rico, we moved into the biggest area in San Juan and had 400 volunteers every day putting out 60-70,000 meals a day from one kitchen and there is something so special about a hot and hearty plate of food,” said Schrode. “It’s a reminder that people are not forgotten and at its peak in Puerto Rico, we were making 150,000 meals a day—with hunger, the emergency is now.”
World Central Kitchen staff and volunteers work with locals, non-profits, churches, the Red Cross and hospitals to create kitchens. While World Central Kitchen is a chef-driven emergency response, volunteers have raced to aid in the efforts, including OpenTable sales team members Rebecca Sherman and Robert Ramos.
“It’s always inspiring to see others sacrifice their own time for others in need, especially while they themselves are also experiencing hardship,” said Ramos. “Doing so and staying positive day after day is admirable and necessary for the human progress, so thank you World Central Kitchen for helping Puerto Rico.”
Sherman and Ramos spent their time at World Central Kitchen helping preparations.
“The World Central Kitchen team is amazing, working six days a week providing meals for thousands each day,” said Sherman. “To hear about someone’s home being destroyed, however their first thought is to come help others, speaks volumes about the people of Puerto Rico.”
World Central Kitchen’s Schrode says the process runs more efficiently than any response she has ever seen and that it was just as important for restaurants to be able to return to feeding people.
“Restaurants were starting to open again and people began to go back to work so in the case of Puerto Rico, we shifted our focus to more remote areas of the island because we want a thriving food economy,” she said. “In buying the harvest, we purchased through local supply chains to create jobs, be good stewards of the land and boost the economy in rural parts of the island which were hard hit.”
The importance of creating and sustaining jobs when people consider shutting down businesses has a wide-ranging impact, including the nutritional needs and availability of healthy food for underserved populations.
“After Maria, we wanted to improve food access and food independence, focusing on agriculture as the root of that and generations of farmers and chefs, all of whom came together to launch this movement,” said Schrode. “A hot plate of food means so much and you feel it when people tell you they were going hungry.”
Helicopter drops to mountain towns to people who hadn’t had a hot meal in three weeks, residents who lost everything including water supply and living in areas with no walls or jobs resonated with World Central Kitchen volunteers. Challenges remained after the storm where cooking with no water, no heat and no fuel was impossible.
Donations through go towards purchasing ingredients locally, cooked by locals and staff hired to serve people in need, a model which Schrode says has proven successful.
“World Central Kitchen has been able to bring it to life with a scale and impact we couldn’t have predicted, from the fires in California to volcanos in Hawaii to hurricanes, we are emergency response from the point of chefs,” she said. “There are also stresses that can follow a disaster, so what we call comfort food extends beyond the meal itself to the people who show up to serve, and that connection provides a sense of unity around food and a sense of purpose.”
World Central Kitchen remains invested in Puerto Rico through Plow To Plate, the organization’s partnership and grants program awarding hundreds of thousands of dollars to small farmers in Puerto Rico. Schrode says they provide capital and connections the farmers need to revitalize Puerto Rico’s food economy. In World Central Kitchen’s other objectives, advocating for cleaner cooking with clean cook stoves and food safety/sanitation training, programs within schools and culinary job training lead to success in social enterprise, in which food ventures result from vocational training in low-income communities.
Chefs who wish to volunteer can sign up to join the chef network for deployment in the face of disaster at WorldCentralKitchen.org.
Dan Sachs is president of Meerkat Restaurant Advisory a restaurant advisory group, and a professor of entrepreneurship, hospitality management, and service leadership at DePaul University. A restaurant industry vet with degrees from Harvard and École de Cuisine La Varenne, he owned the Bin36 restaurant group for 16 years, where he developed and operated several wine-focused restaurants. His work with legendary restaurateurs including Danny Meyer, Drew Nieporent, and Paul Bartolotta has informed his approach and in his current book, The Million Dollar Greeting: Today’s Best Practices for Profit, Customer Retention, and a Happy Workplace he shares details from a variety of different businesses including Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Union Square Hospitality Group and Nick’s Pizza & Pub. We spoke with him about keeping both customers and employees happy.
What’s the connection between a happy workplace and happy guests/customers?
Dan Sachs (DS): Respect for your internal side—employees— yields the kind of exceptional customer service that most places are looking for. It’s a way to differentiate, by caring for your internal people, by making them feel part of something bigger.
How do you make people feel respected and cared for?
DS: One example is at Union Square Hospitality and the art and dedication they put towards hiring. They hire more for mindset than skill set. They get people who appreciate what hospitality really means. A skill set can be taught more than the mentality. It’s how they think about themselves and their lives. Hospitality is all about how to empathize with guests. It starts with hiring the right people and the same goes for pretty much any business. How to set up the structure that can make a real difference in how employees think about the business. That’s how you act as a leader. Some infrastructure is important but really understanding the leadership traits is key, that includes being authentic and with a sense of vision. Even if you’re a fairly straight forward restaurant your employees need to follow your vision. When you nurture that kind of culture you can drive success.
How do restaurants “give a sense of purpose” to employees in their training?
DS: It’s an ongoing practice, it’s tough but you have to have consistency around your values. When you own your own business everyone should know what you’re thinking—but people who are working are not always as attuned to your thought process. Repeating what your goals and vision are is really important. Being engaged and authentic and accountable is crucial. Especially with millennials—explaining the “why” of what you’re doing keeps them engaged. It’s different from how a lot of people in the industry were taught and brought up through the system. Today’s workforce want leaders to be able to answer the question “why are we doing this?” When I was young I can remember a chef saying “peel 100 lbs of potatoes” and I just did it—today you have to make sure the employee knows why. If you can be consistent you can retain employees longer. If an employee feels engaged with the larger mission, they will solve a problem with a guest.
Is empathy something that can be taught?
DS: That is a complicated conversation—there is a big difference about how we think about empathy in personal relations and how I communicate it and that’s what we think about in the restaurant business. That is super important. In business there are lots of other factors that become confusing. If I have power I can afford to be more empathetic. If I’m competent I can use empathy in a different way both internally with other employees. People who stay longer build relationships and so they have a soft power around how they can use empathy. Leaders possess empathy as a tool to influence the employees to behave in a certain way. The restaurant manager can be empathetic because of their power and tenure, can model behavior. In all those cases, even though we want to think about it as god-given, it’s really a tool, and no different from any other tool.
How can restaurants create opportunity for employees if their organization is not expanding?
DS: 20 years ago someone told me, “the cemetery is full of indispensable people.” Leaders believe we can never lose our most valuable employees because they have great institutional knowledge. But the truth is what makes a restaurant successful is not an individual but the sum. You will create a bull pen of quality people coming up. It’s a healthy thing. As good people leave, there is opportunity and it keeps an organization vital. I don’t believe in expanding just to accommodate employee growing.
How do you handle the challenges surrounding wages?
DS: Wages are high and it’s tough, that’s a challenge but complaining about it is not going to change it. Investing in keeping people around pays huge dividends over the long haul because what costs money is not just wages, it’s the cost of hiring and rehiring and overtime. So, investing in leadership and understanding the value has benefits beyond the hourly pay. It’s hard to spend the resources that are required to sort of work through the concepts, but at the end of the day, financial robustness comes from keeping people around with a culture and community because you are an accountable leader and engaged with them.
How do you see technology impacting hospitality in the restaurant industry?
DS: What’s affecting restaurants is really around the cost of doing business and labor costs in particular. The push to utilize tech comes from companies trying to substitute employees. Can that work with hospitality? Can you maintain that while using tech to create efficiencies?. Self service is going to become more common. There will be more self-ordering and that’s already becoming a norm. Can you insert hospitality to create a unique identity for the business without sacrificing individuality? There is one person acting as a traffic cop—but they aren’t exuding the hospitality for a venue’s full service. We all want technology, but if we can’t maintain our unique identity we risk diluting of what makes our brand successful in the first place.
Who do you put first, customers or employees?
DS: I tend to believe it’s a little more nuanced than just who comes first, employees or customers. You have to have an eye on three stakeholders—employees, customers and shareholders/investors. You cannot diminish one to the benefit of another. All of those factors create the vision so if you’re not thinking about strategies around your customers while you are supporting your employees and looking at the sustainability of the restaurant, you’re going to have problems. Smart managers are thinking about all three at the same time. It’s not that the employees are more important, but as important as my customers.
Training, curiosity and learning seem to be a common theme in your book, what are restaurants missing in this regard?
DS: It presumes that restaurants are different from other businesses, the reality is that they are businesses like any other. Organizations across the board operate the same way. And people are the same. The basis for how we are engaged is whether the work is engaging—beyond just washing dishes. To the extent that any employer is providing an environment where that is not just nurtured but celebrated. The reality is the tools around leadership are common across all industries. Where employees are retained and loyal is when their curiosity and hunger for learning is nurtured.
For instance, we had mandatory wine classes every week at Bin 36. We built learning into our model because it kept staff engaged in what we were doing. Opportunities for advancement are important. Nick Sarillo of Nick’s Pizza & Pub developed a program around employee engagement and advancement so all employees have a mentoring network so they see the prep work, the training needed for advancement, so it’s almost a self-managing system. Ultimately employees have the opportunity to grow, even in a pizza place. It has nothing to do with size of the restaurant and level.
Last year, in honor of Giving Tuesday, OpenTable users were given the opportunity to donate their dining points to No Kid Hungry, a national campaign that is ending childhood hunger through effective programs that provide kids with the food they need. The results were astounding—over 23 million points were donated, helping to provide more than 1.25 million meals to children in need.
This year, we’re once again giving diners the option to do a little good during the season of giving. From November 27 – December 10, 2018, diners will be able to donate their Dining Points to No Kid Hungry. We were so inspired by last year’s success that we can’t wait to see the impact our diners will make this time.
“One in six children in the U.S. lives with hunger,” said Debbie Shore, Co-founder of Share Our Strength, the organization behind the No Kid Hungry campaign. “Hunger can have devastating consequences for their health and wellbeing.“We’re grateful to be partnering with OpenTable this holiday season to help feed kids in need. By the simple act of donating their loyalty points, diners can make a huge impact in the lives of children all across the country. Just 100 points can provide five meals to kids in need. Now that’s something to celebrate!”
To donate points, diners can visit their profile page and select “Donate Your Points.” From there, they’ll have the opportunity to donate a portion or all of their points in support of No Kid Hungry. In order to further the impact, OpenTable will match donations up to 250,000 meals.
“This holiday season, we are encouraging our diners to give back to those who do not know when they’ll receive their next meal,” said Andrea Johnston, Chief Revenue Officer at OpenTable.
“Following the huge success of our partnership with No Kid Hungry last year, we, along with our restaurant partners, hope to inspire people to join this movement so that together, we can make a real impact toward ending hunger this holiday season.”
For more information on No Kid Hungry, please visit nokidhungry.org.
All over our country and especially in the Midwest, supper clubs are a thing—a longstanding social tradition of people gathering at someone’s home, bringing a dish, inviting friends, and doing it on the reg. Some have themes, some don’t—but the idea is essentially to host a regular roving dinner party that brings us together over good food, drink and conversation.
As the number of Americans dining out overtook eating in 2015 [cite], the restaurant is often now the site of how we get together. So, we thought: what better way to celebrate local dining communities and support the restaurants who are their fabric than hosting a series of supper clubs ourselves? We’re in the business of connecting restaurants to diners, so these bespoke, special events felt like the perfect way to bring a unique experience to each neighborhood, from New York to San Francisco.
On November 5, in New York City’s West Village neighborhood, we hosted our first ever OpenTable Supper Club in collaboration with Happy Cooking Hospitality, at Gabe Stulman’s restaurant, Fedora. Nestled into the ground level of a brownstone, Fedora is a jewel box of a restaurant, with leather tufted banquets, an original bar, and pop photography that makes the whole place feel like you’re living room (or at least a super stylish one.)
Owner Gabe Stulman is a fixture of the city’s restaurant scene. Born and raised in Fairfax Virginia in a Moroccan Jewish family, Stulman made his way to the University of Wisconsin at Madison where he, like so many of us, worked in restaurants to put himself through school. In doing so, he discovered he loved this business and made his way to NY to pursue a life in food.
Working as a bartender in his early days in the city, Stulman used to pull together groups of friends for, what he dubbed his “Blue Blood” dinner parties—a reference to the fact that they intended to eat like kings and queens—and whether it was his rule that each guest bring a friend he didn’t know, or that people shuffle seats between courses, the spirit of his restaurant group was born. Now the owner of five of the neighborhood (and city’s) most beloved restaurants, he’s still all about great friends, breaking bread, meeting someone new, and having the best time.
Over three courses that included an oyster with caviar to start, the most delicate ceviche, luscious short rib, and an addictive sugar pie, locals and influencers alike joined us for a meal paired with wines chosen specifically for the occasion. Served family-style, the food inspired the conversation, but new connections were formed as people met one another, toasted the occasion, and learned the back story of Fedora (fun fact: the building was in one family since it was built in 1917, and was only recently sold to Stulman’s team who named their restaurant after the grandmother who had run it for years.)
In two separate seatings (5:45 and 8:30), diners bought tickets through the OpenTable experience and enjoyed an insider’s experience of what it might be like if a restaurant opened its doors to only friends on a rainy night for a delicious, out-of-the-ordinary experience. And it is that feeling of being welcomed and invited in that is the ultimate spirit of hospitality.
Photo: Ayano Hisa
Design: Elizabeth Freeman
You open a restaurant and at some point, you publish a cookbook. It seems like a natural progression. But last year GrubStreet[LINK] published The Hidden Risks of Writing a Cookbook, a cautionary tale highlighting the costs, demands and hard cold realities from the point-of-view of several chefs. What it didn’t share was how to do it right. We spoke with two successful chef authors with experience writing several cookbooks, and a cookbook editor to learn from their experience.
Why a cookbook?
Writing a chef-driven or restaurant cookbook shouldn’t be done by default. It requires an incredible investment of time and resources and is not necessarily something that will yield an immediate tangible benefit or profit. So, why do it?
She uses the book as a gift for clients, for private events, for VIP high touch events and even as a training tool to help newer staff understand the history of the restaurant.
Kelly Snowden a senior editor at Ten Speed Press says a restaurant cookbook results in brand amplification. “If a restaurant doesn’t already have a recognized brand, a book isn’t going to do that. But if the topic is compelling enough you can gain new fans and customers. It helps get that message out.”
Steven Cook, partner and co-author with Michael Solomonov of the Zahav cookbook says “The restaurant deserved the opportunity to tell its own story for the 100 or so people who have been part of it — to have something they can hold and show. As a legacy restaurant it’s good for the brand, but really it’s a way to articulate our life’s work and memorialize family and get people excited. The connection to Zahav and the chef is magical, the book gives them another level of connectedness and that all contributes to the sense of connection.”
When should I write it?
While your restaurant may be a huge success, history tells us that good reviews and even a solid business aren’t necessarily the indicators that the time is ripe for cookbook writing. Timing is everything and writing a cookbook too soon, is a mistake. According to Pirie, the book written at year five isn’t the same as the book written at year 10.
And, Michael Solomonov agrees: “A lot of people rush to the first opportunity… wait until your ideas are fully baked,” describing how he had multiple opportunities (to write the book) but the restaurant and its role in Israeli cuisine needed further formulation. The process of writing a restaurant cookbook, whether or you not you use an outside or ghost writer, is one of self reflection. “Do expect to do a lot of soul searching, give yourself the time to do it and do it right,” says Pirie. (Pirie had written two other cookbooks before writing The Foreign Cinema Cookbook and Solomonov and Cook have recently authored Israeli Soul.
What’s the best approach?
A good cookbook takes time—a lot of time—and how you write a restaurant cookbook might be just as important as what you write. Count on a year to two years from proposal writing through to turning in a manuscript. Pirie took a year and a half to write it full time, personally taking time away from the restaurant. Not only was the recipe-testing a major effort, she also wanted to personally be involved with the cooking and shooting of every dish.
“It depends on the restaurant or the chef, if they don’t want to work with a writer, they have to be able to commit the time,” says Snowden. “If the authors work with a writer it can take less time.”
While she’s worked with chef / authors, Snowden also believes that working with a writer helps. “A writer has been through the process, knows how to interpret the recipes and how to corral the chef and see the recipe part through.” Just choosing the recipes is a big job. Says Pirie, “It took a lot of investigative work to identify the iconic dishes to capture the restaurant in two-dimensional form.”
Solomonov and Cook as well as Pirie worked with a recipe editor. For Zahav, the recipe editor worked with Solomonov and the staff to convert recipes out of metric and into servings for four people (the average for home cooks.)
“It’s a major effort,” says Cook, “You can’t just wing it. You have to be precise.” A great recipe editor helped. He also says that recipe testing is an underrated part of the process noting that many cookbooks don’t have recipes that work for readers. While publishers used to do testing in-house, it’s now fairly standard practice that restaurants and authors handle it. Sometimes the easiest recipe takes the most testing, explains Pirie recounting that one particularly simple-seeming recipe had to be tested about 22 times to perfect. And of course, everything has to be tested in home kitchens rather than the restaurant kitchen.
According to Snowden, the biggest mistake she sees even in agented proposals is lack of attention to the recipes. “If I see proposals where the method isn’t clear, it’s a red flag to me. I expect a rigor for the final project. There are certain things we look for such as a mission statement explaining why they are passionate about it, why it’s important and why it needs to be out there in the market.” Ultimately she’s looking for a really compelling narrative. It’s not enough to submit a bio, restaurant, and recipes; it’s the stories that sell her on the book.
How do I get published?
The publisher you choose is incredibly important. For Pirie the final decision was based on a letter a publisher wrote to the team, ensuring them creative control. Experience with restaurant cookbooks is important too. Ten Speed Press often puts out around a dozen chef or restaurant cookbooks per year. According to Snowden, all cookbook publishers publish restaurant cookbooks, but some of the top choices (in addition to Ten Speed Press) are Clarkson Potter, Knopf, Chronicle Books, Flatiron, Abrams and H&H. While she primarily works with agents, some restaurants do submit their proposal without one.
Writing and publishing a great cookbook isn’t enough. A great cookbook requires great promotion or it will languish. According to Snowden, “The ideal scenario is when the chef already has their own PR team and works in tandem with a PR firm that has a national scope. It helps us with the local market. It’s great when everyone works together to get the biggest amplification. When you are paying for someone to do book PR it’s usually someone who knows the restaurant who delivers the best return. Pirie agrees adding, “Your own PR team is a must. The publisher is only a little slice of the pie. We were lucky that Abrams had some budget but it’s up to you to have the PR team driving book promo events.”
Here’s a roundup of wisdom from the pros:
Gayle Pirie, Chef / Owner, Foreign Cinema, San Francisco
Michael Solomonov & Steven Cook, Owners, Zahav, Philadelphia
Kelly Snowden, Senior Editor, Ten Speed Press, Oakland