By Jake Sexton
We are headlong into the holiday season, with all the good and bad that entails. In concrete terms, “holidays” in America loosely translates into “food.” Year’s end is filled with all sorts of parties, potlucks, specialty drinks and desserts, food as gifts, and more. There are all manner of books out there that will help you with creative ways to prepare food, and an increasing number of those books pair with another American obsession –– celebrities. So let’s look at some recent and popular celebrity cookbooks.
First, you’ve got your actual celebrities who feel that they’ve got food knowledge to share with the world. Country singer Trisha Yearwood recently published her third cookbook, “Trisha’s Table,” focusing on healthy versions of Southern comfort foods. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow embarked on a secondary career as a health and lifestyle guru, recently publishing her latest “It’s All Good,” recipes that are free of dairy, eggs, sugar, gluten, and fish (try at your own risk). Even the late, lauded poet Maya Angelou wrote a few cookbooks, combining autobiographical anecdotes with recipes and health tips: “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table” and “Good Food, All Day Long.”
Then, you’ve got books by the new field of celebrity chefs, who either became famous for their popular restaurants, or by starring on food-related TV reality shows. TV show “MasterChef” has put out a handful of cookbooks, including “Cooking Like a Master Chef” by avant-garde chef-turned-TV host Graham Elliot. Heavy on photos, this book focuses on recipes that mix common meals and comfort foods with unusual partners like truffled popcorn or cheddar cheese risotto. Elliot’s rage-prone co-star Gordon Ramsay has also penned a number of cookbooks, such as “Gordon Ramsay’s Home Cooking,” which is noticeably more exotic in its dishes and ingredients. (I presume Ramsay also writes with heavy use of caps lock). We can also expect a cookbook next year from our La Mesa culinary celebrity, Claudia Sandoval, who won the aforementioned “MasterChef” challenge for 2015. “Claudia’s Cocina” is scheduled for release in May of next year.
Finally, we saw many, many cookbooks this year by people who became popular for their cooking-related blogs and YouTube videos. “Thug Kitchen” is a website by a couple of twenty-something vegans who spice up their prose with large doses of humor and profanity. This year they released two cookbooks of hipster-themed vegan dishes. Another blogger, Ree Drummond, started writing about her new life living in a rural town under the title “Pioneer Woman.” The blog included some recipes and cooking tips, grew in popularity, until she got her own TV cooking show and has published almost half a dozen “Pioneer Woman Cooks” books. One last chef, Laura Vitale, was looking for a way to return to cooking after her family restaurant closed. She began a filming a series of YouTube videos called “Laura in the Kitchen,” focusing on traditional Italian dishes, which eventually led to Internet fame and a cookbook of the same name, published this fall. I guess the moral of the story is that if you like to cook, put yourself online so that maybe you too can become rich and famous.
For another holiday treat, you can try our latest library venture, Library to Go. These are library tote bags containing a hand-selected variety of books, CDs and DVDs on a popular theme or movie/TV series, and they can be checked out for a three week period. Themes will include “Star Wars,” I Lie for a Living, Crime and Punishment, and “Downton Abbey.” If you’re in a hurry, this is a great way to borrow a range of entertaining titles on a topic you enjoy (or to discover something new). Ask for Library to Go at the library’s service desk.
––Jake Sexton is librarian at the La Mesa branch of the San Diego County Library. Call the library at 619-469-2151, visit in person at 8074 Allison Ave. or get information online at sdcl.org.