The process of creating a cookbook

Jackie Cameron Author

The recent launch of my book, Jackie Cameron Cooks at Home, is the end of a rollercoaster ride – or the beginning of another...

Writing a book is no mean feat but the satisfaction it has brought me is priceless. As a chef one can reach only a certain number of people but this book has taken me into many homes and into the lives of those I shall never meet. I recommend the exercise to anyone who has the inclination and the energy (you’ll find the time) so I shall share my experience as a guide to how I went about the process.

With the help of the Penguin Publishers team, I first had to establish what we wanted to create and what the market would accept. Fortunately we were in agreement and a reader-friendly, enticingly illustrated, simply laid-out book of layered recipes that screamed effortless was in the making. More than anything I wanted this book to be splattered with butter and flour, to be used for cooking rather than used as a coffee-table picture book. In my opinion, the authors of some recipe books attempt to prove to the world that they are extremely creative and know a lot about food, so they share recipes that impress on paper - a stewed fruit with rose syrup

this or a lavender essence that. In my book you’ll find a delicious stewed-fruit recipe just how my grandmother made it - no bells and whistles, just recipes.

I was then tasked with finding the right support team, and luckily I was supported by Hartford House management as well as my Sous Chef Elaine Boshoff and a number of others helped to cook, style, read, edit and photograph each of the recipes I put forward for the book, ensuring that they translated well from ‘industry speak’ to home use.

I have been writing a column for The Witness newspaper for many years and these articles served as a base from which to work. The more comments I received, the more popular the recipe, so I was able to judge what the home cook wanted and needed. It’s important to have a well thought through process to ensure you get the most out of the process – and brainstorming is invaluable. My rough copy was filled with recipes that I used often when I was a child, dishes I knew people responded to well, as well as many different techniques and combinations. I packed every recipe with as much information as possible and avoided over-complicating the data. I also encouraged the use of ingredients that could be bought from the local grocer – always keeping in mind that my intention was to help create happy memories of home cooking.

Next was choosing recipes I thought would photograph best and then how to style a perfect picture.

Most of the dishes were fond favourites so these recipes had been used regularly in my kitchens - at work and at home. However, a certain tweaking and improving on them was required. We divided my cookbook into four, and using off days we tried and tested the recipe. Once the recipes for the particular section were perfect, the dishes had to be photographed. This was the tiring bit for me because, initially, I found it difficult to create a home-cooked look. Working in a restaurant meant the food was well styled – but I learnt! I made an unwritten deadline with myself that when Sally had my photos done I had to have that whole section of my book completed which meant every shoot day was one step closer to the end. It kept me on my toes.

The completed draft was sent off to Penguin Publishers in April 2012 and I left the experts to perform their magic. They kept me involved every step of the way but it was time to step back because I respected their judgement and their understanding regarding what worked. I remember once questioning something and I was told that “we want your book to do just as well as you do”. I never knew I would get so much pleasure from the comments I receive and I look forward to compiling my next cook book!