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Tips for writing — and promoting — a cookbook

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This post is by SmartBlog on Restaurants and Restaurant SmartBrief contributor Janet Forgrieve.

Turning out cookbooks with their faces gracing the covers is standard practice for celebrity chefs these days, and a growing number of local and regional restaurateurs are following suit as part of an effort to both raise their own professional profiles and market their eateries. Denver chef and restaurateur Jennifer Jasinski published her first cookbook this month. “The Perfect Bite” features dishes from the menu at her popular Mediterranean restaurant Rioja.

Jasinski, who trained under Wolfgang Puck, signed with a publisher in the spring of 2009, but ended up self-publishing the book, using social media including a YouTube video to promote the effort, which took almost two years from start to finish. It’s for sale now on the Rioja website and will be available next week in her three restaurants as well as well-known local bookstore Tattered Cover. If she’s lucky, book sales will just about cover the costs of publishing and Jasinski doesn’t expect to make money from the 5,000-copy printing — the work was a labor of love that she first began dreaming about when she opened Rioja six years ago. For her marketing team, it’s much more – the book is a tool to build buzz for the eatery among locals and tourists alike.

Other restaurants discovered long ago the benefits of putting their recipes down in books. Moosewood, in Ithaca, N.Y., has published 12 popular vegetarian cookbooks comprising about 2,500 recipes that have become a welcome source of revenue for the restaurant, which is run by a collective of 19 owners, says board President Laura Branca. Through the years, the restaurant has attracted a large number of tourists, many of whom made the pilgrimage after reading Moosewood’s books.

“However, our cookbooks have a more important function for us,” she says. “We love to eat, we don’t like to be bored with our food, so we are constantly inventing new dishes and experimenting with new ingredients and combinations, drawing heavily on the inspiration of eclectic ethnic cuisines and adapting traditional dishes for greater health value, and getting lighter on our feet to serve customers seeking not just vegetarian but vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free options. Our readers constitute a very large fan base who write to us from all over the world to say that our books have changed the way that they cook, the way that their families eat, and the way that their grown-up children are feeding themselves now.”

More from Jasinski:

How did you decide which recipes to include?

I went back over all the menus we had at Rioja, we’ve kept copies, and circled my favorite items. Then I went to people who have worked there for several years and asked them what their favorites were, and we went from there. I thought that was a good place to start, and then I added some new stuff I was working on at the time. So, it’s a mix of my favorites, customers’ favorites and staff favorites, and I tried to make it a nice mix of easy recipes along with some hard ones that not everyone will be able to make easily at home. The artichoke tortelloni, for example — we make it look easy but it’s a two-day process. A lot of the pastas, which are my specialty, can be hard for people who don’t normally make pasta by hand.

What was the hardest part of writing the book?

It was really hard for me to describe in a book the things I do by hand every day. It was hard to put it down on paper and describe all the actions involved, how you hold something, how you judge something not just by the temperature but by feel. It’s instinctual for me by now, and for others in the kitchen, which makes it really hard to describe in words.

Have you done or considered doing a cookbook to promote your restaurant and recipes? Tell us about it.

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