Bonus Episode- 2018 Cookbook Year In Review | Bonnie Benwick Washington Post Deputy Food & Recipes Editor
My 2018 Cookbook Year in Review with Bonnie Benwick, deputy food editor and recipes editor of The Washington Post.
(Photo credit Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
Intro: Welcome to The Cookery By The Book Podcast with Suzy Chase. She's just a home cook in New York City sitting at her dining room table talking to cookbook authors.
Bonnie Benwick: I'm Bonnie Benwick, deputy food editor and recipes editor of The Washington Post Food Section.
Suzy Chase: So you're the deputy food editor and recipes editor of The Washington Post, where you've worked since 1989. How old were you when you discovered your love of cooking and cookbooks?
Bonnie Benwick: I think cooking, definitely when I was about nine years old. My mom was a nurse and so she wouldn't be at home when I came home from school. There was an afternoon help to sort of, it was not quite a babysitter, not quite a maid type person, but just someone who was around because it made my parents feel better about that. But my mom would leave instructions or she would call me from the office and say, "Take this out of the freezer." She was a big freezer cook. Defrost vegetables, put them in a pot, do this, do that. I was kind of her prep cook from very early on.
I remember when I was nine I also had my first experience with a pressure cooker, you know those scary kinds with the-
Suzy Chase: Yes.
Bonnie Benwick: Reports things landing on the ceiling, which never happened to me, by the way. But my father really liked tongue and that's kind of one of the scummier things to cook in a pressure cooker, I think, but I was all in. That was my job. Also made borscht for him. He came home almost daily to have lunch and borscht was his thing. So between that and whatever, I was totally ... I'm just in love with making things in the kitchen, creative and fun and you get to eat it.
Cookbooks, I think I ... That's a little harder to pin down for me. My mom had an old settlement cookbook that we might talk about later that she got when she was married. I used to look through that a lot and ask her questions, but she wasn't really a cook by the book kind of a person. I had an aunt who devised her own recipes and everything that she made, she would label it with Aunt Sally's best blueberry muffins, Aunt Sally's best lemon pancakes. I just thought naturally, everything she made was the best.
So that was kind of a segue to looking in books that had really good recipes. I guess I landed in this ... That's a scary number, 1989, isn't it? I came to The Washington Post part-time and then went full-time when my kids got a little older. I've been in the food section for almost half that time that I've been at the Post and that's really where I wanted to be. Luckily, I've just landed in this job where I get to look at all the cookbooks I want all the time and talk to the people who put them together, which is always kind of been a little thrill for me.
Suzy Chase: In the first line of you December 11th piece in The Washington Post, you wrote, "To be honest, we compilers of Best Of lists are never quite sure about what you, dear readers, want most from the cookbook division." Could you take us through the process, like how many cookbooks do you start with usually and what's the criteria?
Bonnie Benwick: Well as you know since you have a cookbook podcast, they tend to come out in publishing clusters during the year. There's a spring graduating class and there are some in the summer that have to do with summer cooking and grilling, but the fall is really, heading into September, that's really the big crush where people tend to remember books most, and give them as gifts, and book reviewers like myself will test out of them quite religiously because we get these advance copies, galley copies way ahead, months ahead of pub dates.
So I try to remember the ones that come earlier in the year, but people tend to hold off and really wait. The big crush of them, like I said, is that fall time. I think I must look through several hundred books a year. I don't obviously get to write about all of them, but I can see a little bit about trends in publishing and what people were after. It wasn't hard to spot the dozens and dozens of instant pot titles this year.
Suzy Chase: Oh yeah.
Bonnie Benwick: So specific that it got down to six ingredients in 20 minutes in your so and so kind of instant pot. It was just like every ... And I think it's going to keep coming, by the way. But then the next sort of round, the books that I tend to stockpile on my desk, or under my desk, or in a special closet that we have.
I'll put Post-It notes. I'm a Post-It notes person. I'll tag recipes that I'm interested in, and if a book has got a hefty number of them, I set it aside for a possible best of the year, and try recipes. You also probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that not all recipes in cookbooks work very well.
Suzy Chase: Yep, exactly.
Bonnie Benwick: Yep. For one reason or another, so we we just make sure that a book that I recommend to people I've been through and spot tested enough that I feel confident that they get good use out of it. I also tend to like a practical, tend to recommend a practical book, something that I think people will not just ... It's not really based on a trend or anything, but it's something that actually teaches them something, kind of a life skill like a bread book, for example, a bread baking book.
They've just gotten much better describing things and giving you step by step photos and sort of eliminating a lot of the anxiety in that process, I think, for a lot of people, or trying to eliminate what seems like a hard time and hard work and this that and the other thing.
Suzy Chase: I find I'm super interested in the story, if the cookbook comes with a story of a region or a culture.
Bonnie Benwick: You mentioned that you like, your Nick Sharma's Season is your favorite of this year?
Suzy Chase: Yeah.
Bonnie Benwick: I think a lot of what his success was, he had this column in The Chronicle, but other than the beautiful brown hands photography that he did that had such depth to it, I think, it was not only the cuisine that he was cooking, but the story of his life, and what food means to him, and what goes into it when he's cooking. Don't you think?
Suzy Chase: It was so heartfelt, and so real, and so honest. I think it's a story that we haven't heard before. That's what got me.
Bonnie Benwick: Yes. It seems this year there were more voices. I went for ... I always try to have a more inclusive list in my list of the year, Best of the Year lists tend to be longer than everybody else's. I know I was kind of complaining about, how could I narrow it down, but it seemed to be echoed in several other end of the year lists that I've seen so far. It's like they're all, cookbooks are just getting better.
It's not necessarily that they're getting edited better, but we're just hearing from more voices and there are more cuisines out there that are more accessible to people because of the way we shop, or available things online, or that we're all so interested in. There are more people who are reading cookbooks for the stories they tell, not just for recipes that they give you.
Suzy Chase: Can you describe the overall quality of cookbooks released this year?
Bonnie Benwick: I was pretty impressed. Even the instant pot books, they went after trying to show you specifically what I think is the cuisines that call for a lot of long, slow cooking, Mexican, Indian, even French, all the braises that happen in French cooking, just translate really well to the instant pot. You have to know what buttons to push and how long to do certain steps. The fact that you can sautee chicken before you stew it for minutes instead of hours, that kind of thing.
I thought that was pretty good and there's also those books like the Japan book that I recommended. It was just to me a really beautiful attempt at picking and choosing Japanese recipes that are not intimidating, that don't call for a lot of ingredients, that don't have you making your own dashi every five minutes, although there is some of that. But I just thought it was a beautiful attempt at, and this has nothing to do with appropriation culturally.
But the author, Nancy Hachisu lived there long enough that she was able to study the cuisine and cook with different Japanese cooks and chefs. So I felt that she had that western sensibility to translate and explain those recipes and choose the ones that she thought would appeal to people like me. So if you've been to Japan, if you're in love with the culture, if you like that way of eating, I thought it was a really nice entrée. Plus, it's just a beautiful book.
Suzy Chase: Yeah. I find that all Phaidon books are beautiful, like coffee table books. It's interesting to hear how that cookbook rose to the occasion for you because sometimes I feel like they aren't really that practical, that they're more pretty to look at.
Bonnie Benwick: Yeah, definitely. They care about the packaging of the thing, and usually there's some, I wouldn't call it a marketing device, but there's something about the way that they present the material and there's always so many recipes in every Phaidon book, right? There are like-
Suzy Chase: A million, yeah.
Bonnie Benwick: Yeah, and that you can't really, unless it comes with one of those little ribbons, how are you going to keep that open?
Suzy Chase: Well, some of them come with two ribbons.
Bonnie Benwick: That's true, I remember Spanish Foods or something from years ago. Yeah, but again, it's not like I've cooked out of a lot of them. So this was a bit of a surprise to me. They always look really pretty, but unless I'm totally wrong about this, it seems like those are kind of giftable. Is that a word? That's not a word.
Suzy Chase: Yeah, I think it is a word.
Bonnie Benwick: They're good for gifts. It's a book that you present to somebody else. I'm not sure that I've ever seen one that someone has just demolished by cooking through it and breaking the spine and doing something like that. So coffee table sounds about right.
Suzy Chase: Cookbook sales soared 25% this year. Does that surprise you at all?
Bonnie Benwick: You know, my editor Joe Union and Cathy Barrow, who is the author of Pie Squared, was also on my list and she's a columnist for us and a friend of mine. Full disclosure, she lives in DC. We're talking about this recently and I think that number might be a little skewed by the overall sales, but the book that's really crushed everybody else, and I'm talking Ottolenghi, and Ina Garten, and Dory Greenspan, and all the people that you think sell really well, 10 times over their heads, five times over their heads is the Joanna Gaines Magnolia Table.
Suzy Chase: Really?
Bonnie Benwick: Have you looked through that?
Suzy Chase: Yeah. I've just flipped through it. Wow.
Bonnie Benwick: Well, it's almost like food is an afterthought to this empire that she and her husband and their multiple children have built. It's that lifestyle branding, I think, that maybe she took a page from Gwenyth Paltrow or something, but it really seemed to click in. She has far outstripped Pioneer Woman, a distant second she is. But I think Joanna Gaines, I think for just fall numbers for her, I heard something like she had sold a million copies.
Suzy Chase: Wow.
Bonnie Benwick: That's just in September. Yeah.
Suzy Chase: People love her.
Bonnie Benwick: That's crazy.
Suzy Chase: They make pilgrimages to that darn place in Waco that they have.
Bonnie Benwick: Yeah, I think she made it a whole, revitalized the industry, and more power to her. I just don't know really where her recipes come from. I haven't researched it enough and I haven't cooked out of the book, although it's on my desk at work. I feel like I need to give it a shot because people are buying it for some reason, right? That alone I think has skewed the overall numbers. If you look at Publisher's Weekly stats, it tends to be not that much different from last year if you take her off the top.
Suzy Chase: In the same vein, it's no shocker that I'm not a fan of celebrity cookbooks, so tell me about Cravings: Hungry For More, Chrissy Teigen's latest cookbook. That was on your list too.
Bonnie Benwick: Yeah. The thing about her is I think she's funny. I do believe that she likes being in the kitchen, but the thing that she was really smart about is she got a very smart recipe developer-
Suzy Chase: Adeena Sussman, yep.
Bonnie Benwick: Absolutely. Don't we love her? We love her.
Suzy Chase: We love her.
Bonnie Benwick: Right. So you know the recipes are gonna be okay and it looks like and sounds like, by all accounts, they have a really good time when they're in the kitchen together. Plus, she's kind of, I'm a little bit of an evangelist in that if Chrissy Teigen has made it easier for some people to do more cooking or to see that there's a simple joy in it, then I can go there.
She even included, I came across one recipe in her book that she said, the head notes really are entertaining, as she is, that she said something like, "Yep, this recipe was in the last book. It's so good we put it in here again. Sue me." It was just a whimsical thing. She can do it. She's a super celebrity star, mom, whatever. I don't know, it just kind of tickled me.
Suzy Chase: I went to the book launch that she did with Twitter here in New York City. It was packed. The line was out the door and people were just excited about her food, about listening to her talk. She has a whole thing like Joanna Gaines going on too.
Bonnie Benwick: Yeah. Does she have her own line of lamps, and sheets, and towels, and stuff like that though? I don't know if she's gonna do that.
Suzy Chase: I think she has her own line of pots and pans at Target.
Bonnie Benwick: Well, yeah.
Suzy Chase: So there you go.
Bonnie Benwick: We're just envious. We want our own line of pots and pans too.
Suzy Chase: We're just bitter.
Bonnie Benwick: Like I said, I'm happy for her and at least in celebrity cookbooks for sure, you're gonna come across 25 pictures of them in the pages of the cookbook? But hers are obviously staged and they're funny. Plus, she's kind of beautiful so it's something for everybody to look at.
Suzy Chase: So onto Nigella, it's her 12th cookbook. What was special about this one, At My Table?
Bonnie Benwick: Up front, I have to disclose I'm a total anglophile. Usually during the year, I troll BBC food, I read the columnists, I'm in love with Diana Henry. Ever since Nigella's first book, it seems like I've been following her. I think when the first one came out, the domestic goddess one, I was working in the commentary section, the outlook section of the Post, and it just so happened one of the editors had gone to Oxford with her and was a roommate with her for a time.
So she told me this story about how Nigella used to throw these dinner parties all the time when she was in college. It seemed authentic. It seemed like her love of food and the fact that she was this homegrown cook, not a chef, was doing her own thing. She's got such a love of ... She's such a good writer. I love the way that she plucks words out of the air, that she'll call something squidgy and she makes it sound like a million bucks.
She does have kind of an economy of language when she's writing recipes and head notes, but they tend to conjure these images that you get. I just like that she's keeping on, keeping on. It seems when a new book of hers comes out, and they haven't all been fabulous. I wasn't a huge fan of Nigellissima, whatever, her take on Italian food and stuff, but I just appreciate that she's still around and still doing her thing so well.
Suzy Chase: I used to love that show.
Bonnie Benwick: Do you like her?
Suzy Chase: Yeah, I loved her show. Remember that show?
Bonnie Benwick: Oh yeah.
Suzy Chase: What was it called? Something ... I don't know. But she was a lot curvier.
Bonnie Benwick: Yeah, she was in the kitchen. Yes, and she-
Suzy Chase: And she loved to eat.
Bonnie Benwick: But she's also had this ... Yes, that sort of late night thing in the fridge was just genius, right? Who else was doing that?
Suzy Chase: We all do that, yep. I was so excited to see seven of the cookbooks on your list were featured on my podcast this year, which is super exciting.
Bonnie Benwick: Don't we have good taste?
Suzy Chase: Look at us. What about Secrets of the Southern Table by Virginia Willis? Talk a little bit about that.
Bonnie Benwick: Have you ever met or been in her presence?
Suzy Chase: She was on my podcast.
Bonnie Benwick: That's great. How long ago?
Suzy Chase: She kicked off season four in September.
Bonnie Benwick: That's really great. I totally admire her. I've known her for a long time. She has these kind of bona fides that I really admire. She's a trained chef, she did the classic French training thing, but she also very early on got into the business of making it accessible for people through television. She worked at Martha Stewart, she worked at the elbow of Natalie Dupree. She learned how to present food to people in a way that I think is not chef-y even though she's a very good chef.
She understands how real folks cook and in this book, she was explaining origins of southern food in a way and did a lot of research and traveling around for it that I'm sure she told you about. One story that I was particularly taken with was this almond pudding that you make very simply with almond milk and gelatin. It's a southern thing, but it was actually Chinese. She explained how the Chinese people came to the south, and how they learned to cook, and how their tradition sort of got melded into southern culture, which I really hadn't read much about.
So I appreciate the fact that she did the homework and is passing along information like that. For me it enriches, like you said, it enriches the story of a cookbook, don't you think?
Suzy Chase: I learned so much from that cookbook. I think she needs to do a companion PBS series just on what she learned traveling around in the south, the history of food in the south.
Bonnie Benwick: That would be great. She's really great on television. Plus, if you talk to her for three minutes, I end up sort of saying, "Well, hey," you know.
Suzy Chase: Hey, y'all.
Bonnie Benwick: Picking up her lovely Georgia accent. Yeah, she's just great. Plus, years and years ago she did a Thanksgiving menu for us that included her mom's pecan pie. Joe and I think it's the best one. It holds up year after year. It's the best recipe we've ever made. The ratio of goo to nuts is perfect and also, this blackberry cobbler, which is kind of genius, that she does in a skillet, very easy. Pour in the batter, pour in the fruit. It's kind of a perfect recipe. I think it got included in the Genius Desserts book by Kristen Miglore this year.
Suzy Chase: I'm gonna have to look up that pecan pie recipe because I always find that there's more goo than pecans and it always makes me mad.
Bonnie Benwick: Exactly, but this is, I'm telling you, this is the way to go.
Suzy Chase: I love Jessie Sheehan and that darling cookbook, The Vintage Baker. With all of the baking books on the market, why this one?
Bonnie Benwick: I just thought it was sweet. She doesn't overreach. I like the fact that it wasn't 800 recipes. Again, I like where she's been baking and how she learned it. But in this one, you're tricked a little bit. It's vintage baker but she's applying modern methods and tweaking very traditional recipes in a way that I think makes them, reintroduces them to us. So I appreciated that. I just think she has a nice feel for things. She doesn't make things too fussy, don't you think?
Suzy Chase: And yeah, she is modern. You feel like you're gonna be flipping through grandma's baking book with her refrigerator cakes, but it's not. It's so modern. I think she's onto something.
Bonnie Benwick: I tend to lard this end of the year list with a lot of baking books. Could you tell? I do. I like all forms of cooking and baking in the kitchen, but really, baking is kind of my jam. So when they come out in full force, all the cookie books and the ... There were fewer cake books this year, I noticed. I thought that was kind of interesting.
Suzy Chase: What is one cookbook trend or type of food you'd like to forget in 2018?
Bonnie Benwick: I'm gonna get in trouble for saying this. Cauliflower.
Suzy Chase: Thank you.
Bonnie Benwick: I've never liked it and just this year it turned into flower, and rice, and microwavable cup things where normally they would have some starch, they used cauliflower instead, which must smell so horrible to me, from the microwave. I can't even tell you. They made cheese crackers out of it, like fake cheese crackers out of it.
Suzy Chase: Those are awful.
Bonnie Benwick: And even ice cream. Have you had those?
Suzy Chase: Yeah, they sell them at Trader Joe's. They're awful.
Bonnie Benwick: Please. I really just would like that to go away.
Suzy Chase: What about kale?
Bonnie Benwick: Kale doesn't bother me. It got overworked a little bit, but I think it's settled back down into a happy place where people just aren't writing about it, but I think they're still using it. I like a good massaged kale salad. I like the way that it's a rich green. I like the way that it's a hearty green that will hold up in a soup. I like kale better than chard, I think. So for those Italian wedding meatball soups and things, I started using kale in it and I like it.
Suzy Chase: Well, okay.
Bonnie Benwick: I'm sorry.
Suzy Chase: You know who Mimi Sheraton is?
Bonnie Benwick: Oh yeah.
Suzy Chase: She hates kale. Hate, hate, hates it.
Bonnie Benwick: She hates maple syrup.
Suzy Chase: She hates everything. I love her.
Bonnie Benwick: She's funny when she hates it.
Suzy Chase: Yeah.
Bonnie Benwick: She actually wrote this essay for us on why she hates the taste of maple. It gets overused this time of year. You should look it up. It's very funny. She gets so ... Talk about click bait. Everybody was just, what are you talking about? Now every time we use maple in a thing we're like, "Sorry, Mimi."
Suzy Chase: What is one trend you see on the horizon for 2019?
Bonnie Benwick: Probably already half trended out. Fried foods maybe? People are gonna rediscover them based on ... The re-tweeted food media seems to have picked up on the air fryer and they're all over it. They think that by spraying their food with cooking oil spray and basically putting them in a convection oven, which is pretty much something you can do in a convection oven, I think, is going to turn the tide. So we'll have fried zucchini and sweet potato fries.
Suzy Chase: Fried cauliflower.
Bonnie Benwick: Sure, all the time.
Suzy Chase: There you go.
Bonnie Benwick: At home. For me, it's not ... I think frying foods in general is something that people avoid maybe for the wrong reasons. They say they don't want a lot of overused oil, but I have this theory that in the vast middle of America, take away the coast, but I think people know how to fry. I think they reuse the oil and they strain it, reuse it. I think once you get a feel for it, it's not like it's in there soaking up buckets and buckets of oil. It's in, it's out. You have to learn how to do it, right?
Again, it's the sort of thing where I think if you know how to do it, you're not gonna buy an air fryer. If you, all the times that you maybe go out and you're guiltily ordering the fried mozzarella sticks or something, it's just funny to me that it's opened up this world of possibilities where there was a world of possibilities already there. But I could be totally wrong about this too.
Suzy Chase: We'll see. What cookbook is sitting on your bedside table right now?
Bonnie Benwick: The one that's on the top of the list is not a new book, it's an old book. It's a 2003 book called Cooking 1-2-3 by Rozanne Gold. Do you know it?
Suzy Chase: No.
Bonnie Benwick: It's like a game-changing book. She gloms on very early to this, it doesn't take a lot of ingredients, and if you want to get dinner on the table, this is how you do it. So the one, two, three is a minimal amount of ingredients, but it's just also very easy steps. I tend to have it on my bedside every now and then when I'm looking for inspiration for my Dinner In Minutes column, which is quick weeknight meals. Usually, there's something in there that I can start tweaking or playing off of.
You should look it up. She's very good in a very simple way. She's one of those people that might be under the radar for people who aren't on the east coast, but I have a lot of respect for her and what she's done. She's done several cookbooks, nothing recent. I don't know if she does that anymore, but she's also I think a driving force behind the cookbook section that was donated or created or something for New York Public Library. I'm getting that wrong, for New York University.
Suzy Chase: Oh yes. I've been to that.
Bonnie Benwick: I think it's called the spine collection or something. Have you? Yeah.
Suzy Chase: The Fales Library?
Bonnie Benwick: Fales, that's it.
Suzy Chase: Yeah. It's incredible.
Bonnie Benwick: Then let's see, something that I have current on here is a galley for Solo, which was on my list. Was that on your list, by Anita Lo?
Suzy Chase: No, but I'm dying to talk to her.
Bonnie Benwick: Yeah, I think she'd be a really good interview. I remember when she appeared on top chef she was someone you wanted to listen to. Every couple of years, people remember that people aren't cooking for groups of 12. They come out with a cooking for one book. Years and years ago, I think just after Joe had come to the food section, we came up with the idea of a cooking for one column and he did for several years. We started off with getting different cooking for one constituencies to author it, like somebody who runs and eats food for fuel, basically.
Obviously someone who was a widower who hadn't been cooking and then just had to start it up and give her her own life. Then Joe sort of glommed onto it and made it things that he likes to cook. It was very popular. What Anita has done in the Solo book is first of all say it's not all about her being by herself because she is in a relationship, happens to be, but even if you're living with other people, every once in a while you cook by yourself and these are empowering recipes that she'll give you that you can treat yourself well without making a whole big deal out of it.
Suzy Chase: I think she lives in my neighborhood.
Bonnie Benwick: Well, lucky you. You should definitely get together with her.
Suzy Chase: She had a restaurant a couple streets over. I cannot think of the name right now, but it closed and everyone was so sad.
Bonnie Benwick: Yeah. Was it Annisa?
Suzy Chase: Yes.
Bonnie Benwick: Anyway, sure. Her restaurant closed and everybody is sort of waiting to see what she's gonna do now.
Suzy Chase: What is your favorite vintage out of print cookbook?
Bonnie Benwick: Probably that settlement one that I mentioned, just for sentimental reasons. The 1949 edition, again, was when my mom got married. That was the year my parents married. I downsized about six months ago and I had so many cookbooks that at some point, I just thought if it's in a box and I haven't looked at it in such a long time, I'm not even gonna open the box. I donated about 12 boxes to a local DC organization that teaches cooking skills and also provides food for the city through city support residents, and I gave it away. I don't have it.
Suzy Chase: Oh no.
Bonnie Benwick: When I opened up the books that I took with me to my apartment, it's gone. I feel bad about that, but she had written notes in the margins. I think I would just like it back in my life for comfort. I can see ... I've gone online before and looked for this edition, and it's hundreds of dollars through somebody who understands how sentimental somebody can be about it. It's really very solidly about the memories and not so much about everything that we made out of it.
Suzy Chase: It's interesting. I was just talking with Jan Miller, executive editor of Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook yesterday, and so many people feel the same way about their really old Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook. It's like an old friend.
Bonnie Benwick: Yeah. Did the old ones used to have that red and white gingham thing on the cover?
Suzy Chase: Yeah, and the tabs.
Bonnie Benwick: Tabs, yes.
Suzy Chase: Yes.
Bonnie Benwick: Yeah.
Suzy Chase: Aw.
Bonnie Benwick: There were also those, there were a series of, I think it was by Workman, those 365 Days of Chicken or something else books. I don't know if they're really out of print or not, but they were the same size and they came out in the same era that The Silver Palate came out in. It's the paperback book but it's kind of longer size. That 365 Days of Chicken might have been in the same format as Better Homes & Gardens where it had a hard cover and you could open up the pages, but there were some pretty good simple chicken recipes in that book. I think I dipped in and out of that quite a lot. That's another one that I let go.
Suzy Chase: I have an oddball question. Why aren't cookbooks critiqued? There are book critics but why aren't cookbooks critiqued?
Bonnie Benwick: You know, I should start something, Suzy.
Suzy Chase: You should. You're welcome.
Bonnie Benwick: Kind of interesting. I think for one, if you're gonna critique it, you can sit down even with a big fat book and read it and then you're done, but with a cookbook, you really need to cook your way through it to critique it honestly, to assess its abilities, and then you have to weight it against other cookbooks and maybe some people just don't have the historical background of reading so many cookbooks and working with so many.
I used to write regular reviews of cookbooks in the earlier days of the food section. Then we had other people writing them, and then we just stopped running them. Nobody said a peep. There wasn't one reader who wrote in and said, "What happened to those great cookbook reviews you used to have?"
Suzy Chase: Oh really?
Bonnie Benwick: No.
Suzy Chase: Huh.
Bonnie Benwick: When I went on social media and just asked for general feedback, not about us, but about in general, where did people read reviews, or how did they know what cookbooks to choose, overwhelmingly, they said they just read what's on Amazon. I just thought, well, who's writing those? You don't even know.
Suzy Chase: Yeah. What pro is writing that?
Bonnie Benwick: It's like the Yelp of cookbooks or something. It's like people find their names and they seem authentic, but it could be Russian trolls for all I know. I don't even understand why that's a good thing to go by. I think more than that, these days, people probably just gravitate toward bestsellers. Don't you?
Suzy Chase: Definitely. Look at Joanna Gaines. On every episode this season, I've been asking cookbook authors what their last meal would be. So, what would you have for your last supper?
Bonnie Benwick: It would be shrimp. I would have different kinds of shrimp. I like those pinky red ones from Maine that they can't seem to get out of the sea these days. I like glass shrimp, which I've had marinated a little bit as an appetizer. I like garlicky shrimp scampi type stuff, really low brow basic stuff. I like just caught gold shrimp that have been poached in a court bouillon and maybe I would just dip it aioli because it would be my last meal and I wouldn't care about anything that was happening to my insides.
But I grew up in a kosher eating two sets of silverware kind of house. I think I must have been in high school or college the first time I really had shrimp. I just went out or went off the reservation and I've never looked back. I never get tired of it, I can't eat too much of it. It makes me sad when it goes into the oven and comes out an hour later and it's just dry and rubbery and horrible in a casserole or something. But I'll always give it a try. I like sucking heads out of shrimp. So there you go. I’d be full of shrimp.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web and social media?
Bonnie Benwick: I would love for everybody to come and chat with us online every Wednesday from noon to one EST at live.washingtonpost.com. We have an online chat called Free Range and we have a lot of faithful followers and a lot of lurkers who can just look at the questions and answers afterwards. It's a really fun hour. Typically if there's a guest who's written something, we'll have people on there. Had a whole lot of cookie experts on the week that our annual holiday cookies issue came out, and that was fun.
People have questions and sometimes they start with, "This is a really dumb question but," and I'm like, "There's no dumb questions." It's all about being non-intimidating. I also have a Dinner in Minutes column. It's been doing a weekly quick meal column since, I don't know, maybe 11 years or so. That now appears in our vertical called Voraciously. I don't know if you have seen it, but it's about a year old and you can get it through Eat Voraciously or washingtonpost.com/food. That'll take you to another link that you can get in.
It's basically about non-intimidating learning basic skills. It's brought in a whole new audience for us. I like [inaudible 00:38:57] my column I maybe even come up with a set pantry so that if you buy into the pantry and if you stock what I stock, then you'll never have to go shopping to make the recipe that I've given you for that week. So that seems to be good.
On Twitter, it's just my name, first name and last name. On Instagram, I'm @bbenwick. I am not on Facebook. I got hacked a couple years ago and never went back on. Now it doesn't seem like a really good thing to do, does it? Although I think Facebook has Instagram too, but I don't share a whole heck of a lot of my personal life on Instagram, just mostly things I eat and make.
Suzy Chase: This has been so much fun. Thanks, Bonnie, for coming on Cookery By The Book Podcast.
Bonnie Benwick: Thank you. It’s been fun.
Outro: Follow Suzy Chase on Instagram, @cookerybythebook, and subscribe over on cookerybythebook.com or in Apple podcasts. Thanks for listening to Cookery By The Book Podcast, the only podcast devoted to cookbooks since 2015.