Book Update, Part II: The Recipes

Book Update

As some of you already know, I am currently working on my first cookbook. This is both an exciting and agonizing endeavor, and while many resources can be found out there — books, blogs and websites — to learn more about writing novels and books in general*, I haven’t found many** that will hold your hand through the specific process of writing a cookbook. Hence my wish to share with you the ins and outs of the path I am taking.

In this second installment (read the first one here) I will tell you a bit about what forms the backbone of a cookbook — the recipes.

A note before I begin: please forgive my occasional vagueness when it comes to the content and structure of the book. I’ve always hated spoilers and I’m not about to spoil this one for you, but more importantly it is still largely a work in progress, nothing is set in stone yet, and like anyone who pours his heart into something, I don’t feel quite confident unveiling too much until it’s all polished and ready to fly out into the world (like that will ever happen).

The book will include 75 recipes, all of them new and previously unpublished — except for three, which I thought of as “classics” from C&Z and felt like featuring again. Some people have asked why I didn’t use more recipes from the website (my contract would allow me to) but it’s really quite simple: I want to give regular readers a good reason to buy the book, and I want to thank them for their support by offering original content. Conversely, I want to give buyers of the book a good reason to log on to C&Z where they’ll find more writing and recipes. And finally, I am just not very interested in collating posts from the past: it’s an infinitely more rewarding challenge to come up with all new dish ideas and the stories to go with them.

This recipe list is the very first thing I turned my attention to when I started working on the book in July: I had drawn up a chapter structure for the proposal, which I kept, but back then I had used mostly recipes from C&Z to flesh it out. Now I wanted to create a new set of recipes which I’d feel excited about, and would still fit into the structure. The way I tackled this was to go through my favorite cookbooks and magazine clippings, browse through the archives of C&Z (half of the stuff I had completely forgotten about), and leaf through the pile of notebooks I’ve kept these past few years, in which I scribble ideas and thoughts and dishes tasted. From all of these sources I wrote down the pairings and techniques that inspired me, unleashing others from hidden places in my mind, memory and imagination.

Once this was all safely captured on the thinly lined paper of my trusty spiral notebook (my official book writing companion), I sort of shook it all together vigorously, whilst softly chanting good-luck mantras. Once the dust settled, new recipes and old favorites had emerged, volunteering to be included in the book. This was a thrilling task, full of possibilities and hope, ideas gushing from every corner and coming together beautifully.

At that point I had about twice the amount of recipes I really needed, and went on to consider the list as a whole, thinking in terms of variety, coherence and harmony. I had to make sure the recipes were all nicely different (no close cousins allowed) and used ingredients that were reasonably available (I had to bid farewell to the bone marrow and the woodpigeon). That there was something for every season (which is somewhat difficult in July, when all you can think about is peaches, fresh herbs and tomatoes), simple dishes as well as more involved ones, and that all of them stayed true to my tastes and my idea of playing in the kitchen.

After a couple of weeks’ work the list was ready for testing. I find it interesting to note, however, that the recipe list turns out to be a living and breathing thing: over time, my enthusiasm for some of its items has deflated a bit (or the testing wasn’t quite convincing), and I’ve replaced them with others, which feel shinier and more tempting now.

Stay tuned for the next episode of this Book Update series, in which I will talk about the recipe testing!

* The most inspiring so far has been the classic, tremendously helpful, heart-warming and funny Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott.

** Mostly I’ve found these two books: The Recipe Writer’s Handbook and Will Write For Food. If you have more suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

  • C’est vraiment très instructif, et passionnant ! Je suis de plus en plus impatiente d’avoir entre les mains le résultat !

  • Tout pareil que Cléa.

  • Those regular updates do really keep us hot hot hot !!
    Looking forward !

  • jerry

    It is interesting to read about the process. Thank you for posting this. (I’d vaguely thought of writing a cookbook also, though I’m quite anonymous.) I can say that the recipes you’ve posted on this blog are really interesting and good – so I’m looking forward to it also!

  • Sounds like you’re well on your way! I look forward to it. The only suggestion I thought of as I read your post was to pick up “Appetite for Life,” a Julia Child biography. It goes into GREAT detail about her writing, testing, and revisions. But then, still maybe not enough detail for your purposes. Best of luck!

  • I, for one, will be looking for your book when it comes out. I have recently read Julie/Julia
    which was also inspired by a blog when she cooked all of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year and kept a blog on the process. Fun and irreverent and about more than cooking. I think you would enjoy it, but don’t know if it will help you narrow the focus of your book

  • I love love love reading about this process! Its like a whole other book, the behind the scenes companion…

  • Neil

    And I thank you for dropping the bone marrow and wood pidgeon. Like Linda I am reading Julie/Julia and if she had a hard time finding a marrow bone in NYC I can imagine what a time I would have here in Memphis. We all are looking forward to following your progress and, of course, to the final product.

    Best of luck.

  • Kam

    Clotilde–thanks for sharing your journey! One website where you might find some new resources is:

    It is primarily geared towards self-publishing, which you aren’t doing, but there may be one or two books of interest to you. Best of luck!

  • As far as I know, you’ve sussed out the two best food writing instructionals that I know (and by far the most inspiring, down-to-earth writing “manual” — I could read Bird by Birdy over and over again). Why not call up NY’s famed Kitchen arts and letters and ask what (else) they have on hand? In my experience, they’re happy to share knowledge over the phone and they have probably the best collection of food writing books/cookbooks/instructionals anywhere. (212) 876-5550

  • mindy

    I can’t wait for your book and i’m quite sure the finished product will be pure magic!!

  • I love your blog clotide, you’re my hero!!
    Do drop by my blog sometime,
    I’d be so honoured!!

  • Lisette

    This is so exciting! Does this mean the volunteers get to start testing soon?

  • Thanks so much for writing about your process. I am (with my fiance) putting together a mini-cookbook of our favorite recipes for our families this christmas. We are too poor this year for presents but we love to cook so we thought it would be nice to share our tried and true goodies with our families. (Also I LOVE the Anne Lamott book Bird by Bird and am currently reading Letters to a Young Artist by Julia Cameron, not nearly as funny and honest as Lamott but definitely one that sets me back at work.)

  • There’s a lot of inspiration from Bird by Bird, I find myself wearing down the pages for a daily dose of affirmation. It’s indispensible.

    75 recipes? That is a monumental feat. But I take it, there’s even more inspiration—what a wonderful challenge.

    And always remember, the spiral notebook is your best friend :) Best of luck and creativity!

  • Thank you for sharing the process Clotilde. It shows good things take time to evolve.

  • asha

    Clotilde, do you know when you’ll be able to tell us where you’ll be for the book signing?

  • Yes, Bird by Bird is one of my favourite books on writing from university. The most memorable metaphor for me is about how feeling lost writing a book is like driving home in the dark: you can only see ten feet in front of you, but you’ll still make it to your home thirty miles away. Very encouraging.

  • Emily

    In addition to Bird by Bird another book on writing that is worth checking out:
    – Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
    Helpful and delicious to read as both Lamott and Goldberg are wonderful weavers of language.

  • Bird by Bird is truly and inspiring book. I wish you all the best on your journey, and will most certainly stay tuned.

  • Your such an inspiration! Looking forward for the book….:)
    Do drop by my blog sometime..:)

  • Vicky Go

    My very favorite food writer is M.F.K. [Mary Frances Kennedy] Fisher.

    Here’s a sampler of her works:
    The Measure of Her Powers: An M.F.K. Fisher Reader

    or test her writing when she wrote about France in this book:
    Long Ago In France : The Years In Dijon (Destinations)

    Sooo literate – sooo evocative!


  • Vicky Go

    Oh I forgot – for a more ‘contemporary’ tone – try Julian Barnes’ (he’s an avowed Francophile – wrote “Flaubert’s Parrot”) food/cooking ‘essay’ – A Pedant in the Kitchen.

    Great reading!


  • I want to mention, make sure the index is alphabetical by ingredient. Without a useful detailed index, the book never gets as much use as it deserves.

  • There is a book on how to write and market cookbooks at this link:

  • Zan

    oooooooooh… I can’t wait!


  • I look forward to the book.

    I’ve taken several writing seminars with Dianne Jacob and know her book, Will Write for Food, well.

    I think that if you are writing for the American market and for a mainstream publisher it is an excellent guide.

    Take care.

  • Laura

    Hi Clotilde! I’ve enjoyed your blog for quite a while now, and am really looking forward to the book. Several other posters have mentioned a few great resources for the writer. I would also suggest The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard. She has a quieter approach than Anne Lammott, but both offer great advice as well as solace.

    Best Luck!

  • Merci de partager avec nous les étapes de ce processus! Je suis tes aventures avec un mélange de fascination, d’admiration et… ben oui, disons-le, un brin d’envie, aussi ;-)

    Continue sur ta lancée, c’est merveilleux de te voir aller!

  • Hey Clotilde,

    Thanks so much for recommending my book.

    Writing a book is so hard, isn”t it? Seems like such a huge project when you first start on it.

    I felt that way about my book, because I had never written anything so long. But then I got into it, and ended up writing 30,000 words too much! And it”s still not enough. There”s still so much more to say about blogs focusing on food, plus how to write cookbook reviews and business writing about food. Maybe I can do a revision at some point.

    If you are writing first-person essays, I like Writing Life Stories, by Bill Roorbach. He has lots of useful exercises. I got so much from them I borrowed the idea for my book.

    I think I mention about 200 books in my Bibliography, so I could go on and on.

    Dianne Jacob
    Author: Will Write for Food, The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Restaurant Reviews, Articles, Memoir, Fiction, and More
    (Marlowe & Co./Avalon)

  • Pete

    What a magnificent question! Now I can go through your comments section and increase my books-to-read list.
    I did notice that no one mentioned Ann Hesser’s books “Cooking for Mr. Latte” and “The Cook and the Gardener”. Ms. Hesser writes for the food section of the NY Times and–may I say–approaches food writing in that descriptive-sensory way that makes your blog so endearing. Anyway, I highly recommend her books for inspiration in your writing, or just to try something new.

  • Clotilde: The writing of your cookbook sounds like quite an adventure–how exciting for you! I wanted to agree about Anne Lammott’s book Bird by Bird. What a wonderful, humerous, helpful guide to writing, and life in general. I keep it nearby when I dream about writing a book :)!

    can’t wait till your book comes out!


  • Aimee

    Has anyone else read and fallen in love with Laurie Colwin’s approach to food writing? I can’t get enough of her two collections of her essays. Sadly, she died too young awhile back. Her writing is simple and inspiring. I’ve loved her more than any other food writer save Clotilde. She always gets me excited about creating simple, beautiful food in the kitchen.

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