Only it's not really a cookbook. I received a copy last week and am posting now about it to say that it is real and that it is extraordinary. I wrote the introduction, which is not why it's extraordinary, and Jeffrey Steingarten wrote an essay on what it's like to dine at Alinea, and Michael Nagrant and Mark McClusky (Wired editor who wrote about Achatz here) also contributed essays, good stuff all, but that's to be expected.
Alinea is a big fat book weighing more than 6 ½ pounds (3 kilos), exquisitely photographed, designed and packaged. Again, to be expected, all of which it excels at, and the book will surely hold it's own against this season's big books from the most innovative chefs working today.
What makes Alinea extraordinary—beyond the difficult task it set out to accomplish, which was to create a sense of the restaurant in book form and which it, in my not-unbiasesd opinion, achieves—is the nature of its creation. Grant and his partner Nick Kokonas, along with designer Martin Kastner and his wife, photographer Lara Kastner, wanted to do it on their own and so they have. Kastner, I believe a sculptor by trade, had never designed a book. His wife had never photographed a book, food or otherwise. Grant and Nick had never done a book either. And they were told by numerous publishers (in a nasally dismissive tone, Kokonas suggested) that they just didn't have the skill or experience to do what they wanted to ("Gray pages?! You can't do gray pages!" "You can't sell a book like this at that price.") And yet here they have excelled at every level. And they've created a website that works in tandem with the book, eventually to be available to all. Not least of the group's accomplishments may not be visible when you see the book—the publishing model Kokonas created, which allows the publisher 10 Speed Press, to sell it at a competitive price (Kokonas discusses it here). How competitive a price?
Donna, mouth open at the beauty of it, leafing through my early copy asked, "How much is this? Like a hundred and fifty?"
"Fifty," I said. She couldn't believe it. I showed Symon my copy and when I told him the price he said, "That, is sick."
Kokonas puts it even more bluntly. "Thirty-one fifty at Amazon."
It's a big heavy art food documentary book. $31.50.
Will it be criticized? No doubt many will take pot shots at it for the difficulty of the recipes, but that would be a little silly. This is not a home-cook book. This is a document of the exact recipes the Alinea brigade uses. It's very complex stuff and some of the techniques are difficult to pull off, requiring a good deal of skill and delicacy. I am really eager to hear what critics, and the market, have to say about this ambitious book and it's innovative publishing strategy.
Kokonas ordered a first printing of 50,000 books. Half, Kokonsas said, have been presold.
UPDATE 9/5: In related news, the new Harper Collins imprint, HarperStudio, has signed a deal with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which owns the Emeril Lagasse brand, to publish 10 Emeril Lagasse books. Crain's New York Business reports that MSLO will earn 50% of the royalties in exchange for a lower advance. I liked this model when it benefited the author, who traditionally earned 15% royalties. I find it less satisfying when that that author is a corporation. I hope we get to know who is actually writing these things.