Chew on This: Paris Inaugurates a Book Fair for Foodies

In Europe by Olivia Snaije

By Olivia Snaije

PARIS: It makes perfect sense that the first international cookbook trade fair will be held in Paris — a city that, to many, remains the culinary capitol of the world. The Paris Cookbook Fair runs this week, from February 12-15, and its founder, Edouard Cointreau, hopes to unite the cosmopolitan network of food lovers and professionals he has established over the past 15 years as chairman and founder of Gourmand International, which gives out the annual Gourmand Cookbook Awards.

Edouard Cointrea, Creator of the Paris Cookbook Fair

Edouard Cointrea, Founder of the Paris Cookbook Fair

International rights for cookbooks have traditionally been sold at either the Frankfurt or London book fairs and the only other truly specialized market is the children’s book fair in Bologna, explained Edouard Cointreau.

But, given that there has been a 5-10% increase in cookbook sales in Europe, the US and Latin America since 2001, and that publishers continue to invest in cookbooks which in turn, often finance them, the time to launch a new fair seemed right to Cointreau. As a result of the recession, publishers are looking hard at their travel budgets for international book fairs and Cointreau is hoping that a smaller, less expensive event that is specific to the cookbook trade will seem like a reasonable, low risk investment to publishers.

That said, American publishers are notably absent from the list of participants, although the festival is fully booked; with French publishers making up 35% of the participants, 35% from the rest of Europe and the remaining 30% from Asia and Latin America.

As might be expected, 80% of French publishers will be present. The two biggest Chinese cookbook publishers, the privately owned China Food Culture and the state-owned China Light Industry Press, are also attending, as are Russian and Brazilian publishers.

Just a short train ride from London, Paris will see UK publishers such as Phaidon, Kyle Cathie and Grub Street in attendance. Swedish publishers, who buy the largest amount of cookbooks in proportion to their population, will be in Paris full force. A large number of booksellers are also attending from countries as distant as Canada or Australia, which Cointreau said was unexpected.

For organizers, “Paris is one of the most expensive and complicated places to hold a fair, but it is still a magnet,” said Cointreau, who found a home for the festival in a splendid 19th century industrial building called the 104, that underwent a €100,000,000 renovation in 2008. For the moment he has a 3-year agreement and has managed to finance the fair privately; he has carefully avoided any links to French political or institutional bodies.

Not only is Cointreau capitalizing on the city’s name, but also on its centrally located destination and an excellent transportation system. Cointreau was the director of a French cookbook festival located in the gastronomic capital Périgueux for four years, and recalls that he tried to make it international but it was simply too difficult for international visitors to get to. He has kept ties with the Périgord region’s gastronomes, and this year the cuisine of southwestern France will be honored at the festival, with tastings and buffets featuring regional specialties such as truffles, foie gras, chestnuts and saffron. Next year the gastronomy of Alsace will be spotlighted to balance things out said Cointreau.

The Cookbook Festival will kick off tomorrow night, February 11, when the Gourmand Awards will be announced. Some Gourmand prize-winners have already been made known, such as Phaidon, the publisher of the year; Harumi Kurihara as this year’s celebrated chef, Jamie Oliver’s Fresh One as producer of the year and the best wine book award will go to The Art of Wine-making published by Vinothek Verlag in Chinese, German and English.

On Friday and over the weekend there will be conferences held on subjects such as Translating and Adapting Cookbooks, Exporting Cookbooks — the Foreign Rights Market, Cookbooks in Latin America — a market on the rise, cookbook trends around the world, and the popularity of charity cookbooks. On the latter subject, Cointreau is quick to point out that this is an important trend that one won’t necessarily hear about elsewhere.

Cointreau has put together an exhibition of more than 60 charity cookbooks for the Festival and estimates that in the US there are 3-6,000 charity cookbooks that have been published recently, though that it is very difficult to get precise statistics since most do not have an ISBN number.

It remains to be seen, given the financial climate, whether or not cookbook rights will be booming at the Paris Cookbook Festival, but Cointreau is making sure that the books remain the main focus. “Every tasting will be connected to a book. Behind every event with a chef there will be a book. The cookbook must dominate.”

VISIT: The Web site for the Gourman Cookbook Fair

SEE: A list of the charity cookbooks on display.

DISCUSS: Cookbooks? Romance? Sci-fi? Is Niche the Future of Fairs?Cookbooks? Romance? Sci-fi? Is Niche the Future of Fairs?

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.