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15 October 2009

Cook books spice up Frankfurt Book Fair fare

Cook books spice up Frankfurt Book Fair fare
By Frederic Bichon (AFP)

FRANKFURT — A scent of hot chocolate whets visitor's appetites as they pore over arid Russian textbooks and Saudi technical manuals at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

For the first time in 61 years the world's largest literary fair has a section on cook books, a niche market resisting the sector crisis, sprinkled with debates on diets, digitalisation and demonstrations by TV chefs.

"Many editors of books on hobbies or travel for example are presenting cook books at the fair," explained Ursula Holpp, head of the initiative.

"The idea was to raise their visibility by grouping them in one section and to organise events around the theme."

In addition, "some cook book publishers already attend trade shows for food, wine or distribution, but not book fairs. The goal was to get them to come to Frankfurt," she said Wednesday.

The area covers just 400 (14,000) of the show's 170,000 square meters (six million square feet), but with visitor attendance tipped to be lower this year it represents a mouth-watering addition.

Organisers only launched the project in August when it became clear the show would not escape the global economic slowdown.

"This sector hasn't been hit by the crisis," said Laura Gosalbo, a Spanish cookbook author who has written a thick book about the genre's history.

Publishers Weekly, an editing "bible," said cook book sales have risen by four percent since the start of the year.

"'Tele-chefs' are locomotives now," Gosalbo explained.

"The first show, on the BBC, dates back to 1936, but you see them all over the world now. It's part of the entertainment industry too."

"Paradoxically, people have less and less time to cook, but more and more want to learn and when they have guests, make a point of honour of serving elaborate dishes," the Spanish author noted.

"And with globalisation, we are interested in cuisine from all over the world."

Authors seeking to sell cook books in countries other than their own must nonetheless find original angles and present them in ways that can be adapted to varied markets, cautioned Johanna Rodrigue, a foreign rights specialist for French publisher Hachette Pratique.

She cited as an example a book on chocolate, "without brands or advertising, generic and adaptable" that has been sold around the world.

In Frankfurt, some cooking demonstrations drew more attention than certain debates on freedom of expression in China, the guest of honour, even before the show opened to the public this weekend.

On Wednesday, Portuguese "tele-chef" Chakall prepared "tapas to serve with champagne" composed of foie gras with Hancheng pimentos, a chestnut-pheasant soup, Sierra Nevada caviar and of course, a spiced chocolate cake.

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