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Biggest selling cookbooks of year aren't necessarily award winners

It all started in 2008 with Jennifer McLagan's Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes.

Somehow I knew that slim cookbook with its evocative photos of glistening white fat clinging to crimson meat was going to be an award winner. The topic was provocative; the book beautifully produced by Ten Speed Press. Whereas fat was our previous enemy, Food Network chefs were convincing us what Julia Child had been saying all along: "Fat gives things flavor."

McLagan seized that moment and won the James Beard Foundation award in 2009 for the best cookbook of the year.

I knew it. So ever since then, as I look over the cookbooks that cross my desk daily, I mentally check off which ones will be likely James Beard nominees. I was right about Nathalie Dupree's Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking, last year's best American cookbook, and I figured Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem would be another James Beard darling. (He won in the international category.) Martha Holmberg's Modern Sauces was a good guess, too. (She was a finalist in single subject.)

This year's winners will be announced Friday, and I would put money down that Amy Stewart's The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World's Great Drinks will take the beverage category. And I am also rooting for Amy Thielen's The New Midwestern Table: 200 Heartland Recipes in the American cooking genre.

What I am not so good at is predicting the bestselling books of the year, because rarely do the top sellers win the big awards. Unless you count money as a big award.

For instance, I didn't give Kay Robertson's Miss Kay's Duck Commander Kitchen a second look. It didn't much hold my interest, nor does the TV show from which it springs, Duck Dynasty. It sold 290,000 copies last year, second only to the No. 1 bestselling cookbook, A Year of Holidays by Ree Drummond.

Drummond, a superstar food blogger at who has a show on the Food Network, has three of the top six selling cookbooks. Those three books sold 670,000 copies last year, and two weren't even published in 2013. To put it in perspective, the year that McLagan won the James Beard award, Fat sold about 25,000 copies.

It's not a phenomenon unknown to other genres of books. Many bestselling authors of fiction — James Patterson, Dan Brown and Nicholas Sparks to name three — are rarely among the names mentioned as writing the most noteworthy books of any years. This despite selling millions of copies of their works and having them made into movies.

So what gives?

As you look over the accompanying lists of best-selling food books and James Beard finalists, you'll notice a couple things that separate them. Most of them, anyway.

TV, for one. The Internet, for another.

Half of the bestsellers are written by people with significant television presence — Drummond, Robertson, Mario Batali, Ina Garten, Michael Symon, Giada De Laurentiis, Bobby Deen. Drummond and Deb Perelman ( amassed huge Web followings through their blogs before their books were launched. Both have a big video presence on YouTube. To sell big, an author needs a mainstream marketing source.

The other books on the bestselling list are diet and nutrition books whose authors tapped into the juicing and whole-foods eating trends, among others. Superstar food and science journalist Michael Pollan's Cooked was a bestseller last year. The paperback was published this month. I was surprised it didn't garner a Beard nod for the thoughtful author who won with the Omnivore's Dilemma in 2007.

Ottolenghi, the London chef whose work has been championed by the New York Times and many bloggers who have sung the praises of Jerusalem and Plenty, is the one outlier author. His bestselling books are also award winners.

So far this year, I have pinpointed Ryan Farr's Sausage Making: The Definitive Guide with Recipes and Ellen Brown's Mediterranean Cooking as James Beard nominees for 2015. They've got the look. Serious and beautiful, and their authors are plugged into contemporary culinary interests. And I am just a bit in love with Kim Sunée's A Mouthful of Stars: A Constellation of Favorite Recipes From My World Travels. It makes me want to cook.

Who will sell the most cookbooks this year?

I'll have to watch more TV to predict that one.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at or (727) 893-8586. Follow @RoadEats on Twitter.

Cookbook finalists

The following is a partial list of books that are finalists for the James Beard cookbook awards.

(Full list at Winners will be announced Friday.

American cooking

• Love New York: Ingredients and Recipes by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara (Ten Speed Press)

The New Midwestern Table: 200 Heartland Recipes by Amy Thielen (Random House)

Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey: Recipes From My Three Favorite Food Groups and Then Some by John Currence (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

Baking and dessert

• The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer with Martha Rose Shulman (Knopf)

Sweet by Valerie Gordon (Artisan)

Tartine Book No. 3: Modern Ancient Classic Whole by Chad Robertson (Chronicle Books)


• The Cocktail Lab: Unraveling the Mysteries of Flavor and Aroma in Drink, with Recipes by Tony Conigliaro (Ten Speed Press)

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks by Amy Stewart (Algonquin Books)

The New California Wine: A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste by Jon Bonne (Ten Speed Press)

Focus on health

• Gluten-Free Girl Every Day by Shauna James Ahern with Daniel Ahern (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good by Mark Bittman (Clarkson Potter Publishers)

Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less by Ellie Krieger (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

General cooking

• One Good Dish by David Tanis (Artisan)

Smoke: New Firewood Cooking by Tim Byres (Rizzoli New York)

Try This at Home: Recipes From My Head to Your Plate by Richard Blais (Clarkson Potter Publishers)


• Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop (W. W. Norton & Company)

Return to the Rivers: Recipes and Memories of the Himalayan River Valleys by Vikas Khanna with Andrew Blackmore-Dobbyn (Lake Isle Press)

Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way by Oretta Zanini DeVita and Maureen B. Fant (W.W. Norton & Company)

Single subject

• Culinary Birds: The Ultimate Poultry Cookbook by John Ash with James O. Fraioli (Running Press)

Fish: 54 Seafood Feasts by Cree LeFavour (Chronicle Books)

In the Charcuterie: The Fatted Calf's Guide to Making Sausage, Salumi, Pâtés, Roasts, Confits, and Other Meaty Goods by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller (Ten Speed Press)

Vegetable Focused

and Vegetarian

• Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite by Sarah Copeland (Chronicle Books)

River Cottage Veg by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

(Ten Speed Press)

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

(Ten Speed Press)

Bestselling food books

These are the top selling cookbooks and other books about food of 2013 according to Publishers Weekly. All were published in 2013, unless otherwise noted.

1. A Year of Holidays by Ree Drummond (William Morrow), 367,000 .

2. Miss Kay's Duck Commander Kitchen by Kay Robertson (Howard Books), 290,000

3. Food From My Frontier by Ree Drummond (William Morrow, 2012), 190,000

4. Barefoot Contessa Foolproof by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, 2012), 174,000

5. Wheat Belly Cookbook (William Davis Rodale, 2012), 127,000

6. Recipes From an Accidental Country Girl by Ree Drummond (William Morrow, 2009), 113,000

7. Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi (Ten Speed, 2012), 109,000

8. Giada's Feel Good Food by Giada De Laurentiis (Clarkson Potter), 106,000

9. Forks Over Knives by Del Sroufe (Experiment Trade, 2012), 104,000

10. Cooked by Michael Pollan (Penguin), 100,000

11. From Mama's Table to Mine by Bobby Deen (Ballantine), 98,000

12. The Juicing Bible by Pat Crocker (Robert Rose, 2000), 86,000

13. The Healthly Green Drink Diet by Jason Manheim (Skyhorse, 2012), 85,000

14. The Chew: What's for Dinner? by Mario Batali, Michael Symon and Carla Hall (Hyperion), 73,000

15. Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook (John Wiley & Sons, 2012), 67,000

16. Against All Grain by Danielle Walker (Victory Belt), 66,000

17. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman (Knopf, 2012), 65,000

18. Michael Symon's 5 In 5 by Michael Symon (Clarkson Potter), 64,000

19. Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi (Chronicle, 2011), 62,000

20. The Science of Good Cooking by America's Test Kitchen (Cooks Illustrated, 2012), 62,000

Biggest selling cookbooks of year aren't necessarily award winners 04/28/14 [Last modified: Monday, April 28, 2014 7:31pm]
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