Mastering the Art of Cookbook Writing

As much as anyone, Judith Jones is responsible for the modern history of good writing in cookbooks. As a young editor at Knopf, she found and published Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and went on to edit, among many other works, the cookbooks of Marcella Hazan, Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey, Marion Cunningham—all authors who possessed extraordinary, transfixing voices. Jones shaped what could have been a how-to genre into an art, and now she’s written her own memoir, The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food. Writer Michael Ruhlman’s a fan of it, and on his blog he’s just posted a short interview with Jones that’s a delight to read. She’s smart, chef’s-knife sharp, and highly quotable.

Here’s Jones on food television: “I get so sick of the Food Network thing. ‘We’re more than just about food.’ Who wants it to be about more than just food? Food is a wonderful subject, endless.” On food blogs: “The thing I do have against some of them is that they’re so carelessly done and the language is so terrible. Four letter words—we won’t name names—they don’t go very well with food!” And on recipe writing:

And to write a good recipe, and I feel this very strongly, you have to express exactly what you do. You have to be able to explain well. Good writing, I like good visceral writing. One of the things I keep quoting is, ‘In a bowl, combine the first mixture with the second mixture.’ What does that tell you? ... Julia would say, ‘PLOP it in the pan, SMASH it against the…’—visceral words.

For those eager for more, the New York Times profiled Jones in last week’s food section. Among the highlights: Jones was raised on “Depression-era and wartime New England cookery” and “as her mother neared the end of her life, one of the Big Questions she asked was, ‘Tell me, Judith, do you really like garlic?’”

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