Waiters bustled around the circular tables of 10 at the luncheon at the Park Lane Hotel ballroom May 18, but nobody was talking much about the food they were eating.
These book publishers, newspaper and magazine food editors, and cookbook writers were gathered for what is now becoming a rite of spring - the 17th annual Tastemaker Awards for outstanding cookbooks of the year. They were talking about cookbooks.
In past years, books cited have included such favorites as ''The Settlement Cookbook,'' ''The Joy of Cooking,'' and books of recipes by Craig Claiborne, James Beard, Fannie Farmer, and Betty Crocker.
This year ''The Book of Bread'' by the husband-wife team Evan and Judith Jones of New York was named the outstanding cookbook of 1982.
The choice was expected by many, since it is an excellent book, but there was as much interest in the runners-up,many newcomers, as in the top winners in the 10 categories.
The awards are selected by a nationwide panel of 50 magazine and newspaper food editors, cookbook authors, publishing executives, and academicians. Called the Tastemaker Awards,it is the nation's only cookbook awards program and is sponsored by the R.T. French Company in Rochester, N.Y.
Seated between Gloria Bley Miller, author of ''The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook'' (Grosset & Dunlap), a past award winner, and Manny Barron of Barron's Publishing, who had two books cited as runners-up this year, I saw Craig Claiborne, Lorna Sass, and many other past winners. New winners and runners-up were introduced as their awards were announced.
The day's top winning book, ''The Book of Bread'' (Harper & Row, $16.95), covers every aspect of breadmaking with recipes from other lands, recipes for bread using vegetables from the garden, and suggestions for turning breads into complete meals.
Although a number of bread books are available today, this one is extra special. Evan and Judith Jones, the authors, confess to having been breadmakers for many years. They published a children's bread book, ''Knead It, Pinch It, Bake It,'' in 1981.
Evan Jones has written three other food-related books and five history-geography books. His first cookbook, ''American Food, the Gastronomic Story,'' won a Tastemaker category award in 1975. Judith Jones is a senior editor at Alfred A. Knopf Publishers.
A total of 115 books were nominated for the 1982 competition. Winners in 10 separate categories were determined by members of 10 select panels. Other category winners were:
Basic-General: ''The La Varenne Cooking Course'' by Anne Willan, (William Morrow Co., $34.95).
American: ''Connecticut a la Carte'', edited by Melinda M. Vance, (Connecticut a la Carte, Westport, Conn. $19.95).
International: ''Guiliano Bugialli's Classic Techniques of Italian Cooking'' by Guiliano Bugialli, (Simon and Shuster, $19.95).
Specialty: ''John Clancy's Christmas Cookbook'' by John Clancy, (Hearst Books , $17.50).
Runners up in the single subject category were ''The Joy of Chocolate'' by Judith Olney (Barron's, $12.95) and ''The Festive Bread Book'' by Kathy Cutler (Barron's, $14.95).
Here is a recipe from ''The Book of Bread,'' by Evan and Judith Jones. Apricot and Toasted Almond Bread 1 1/2 cups (about 7 ounces) dried apricots 1/2 cup orange juice 1/2 cup light brown sugar 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 3/4 cup chopped almonds 2 eggs 1/2 cup buttermilk 1 1/2 cups white flour 1 cup oat flour 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon coarse salt or 1/2 teaspoon table salt
Chop apricots or use food processor. Heat orange juice until it boils, then stir in the apricots. You should have a heaping cupful, chopped. Add brown sugar. Let sit 15 minutes.
Using 1 tablespoon of oil, brown almonds in medium frying pan, stirring and tossing so they toast evenly and are lightly browned all over.
Beat eggs until frothy, then mix in remaining oil and buttermilk. Thoroughly blend the 2 flours, baking powder, soda, salt, and toasted almonds. Add to the egg mixture, then stir in apricots and their juice.
Turn batter into a buttered 9-inch baking pan and bake in preheated 350 degrees F. oven for 50 minutes. Let rest in pan 5 minutes before turning out onto a rack to finish cooling. Makes a 9-inch loaf.