The next big cookbook: Korean?

At a recent conference, I saw a fellow food writer pitch a book to a panel of editors about eating well on a recession budget.  “Too late,” came the reply. Even signing a contract for such a book today, it wouldn’t hit the shelves until 2011, when presumably it would no longer be topical.

An editor commented that he wished someone had sold him that proposal two years ago.

I thought about that conversation when talking with Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee, author of the recently published book. “Quick & Easy Korean Cooking.” I love Korean food, but it is the one cuisine that has been too esoteric for most of my friends and relatives to join in. They dubbed it too spicy, too aggressive, too unusual.

Just in time for Lee’s book to hit the stands, though, Korean food is making a mainstream splash. In just one manifestation,  Gourmet magazine named Korean food “the next new cuisine,” and chose Lee’s “Quick and Easy Korean” as a selection in its monthly book club.

I asked Lee how her tempting, beautifully photographed – and, yes, accessible – book hit the sweet spot of a publisher’s timeline. Precognition played no part. She’s been championing the cuisine for years – starting her writing career with an article on kimchi for the Los Angeles Times, and publishing a previous memoir/cookbook on “Eating Korean” in 2005.

“Two years ago, I was predicting that Korean food is going to be huge.  I [was] a little lone voice. People are going 'yeah, sure,' " Lee told me.

When she pitched a follow-up to her first book, an editor at Chronicle Books – the same one, as it happens, that talked about timing at the writers conference – suggested she take on Korean food for an existing series, Chronicle’s “Quick & Easy” line of cookbooks. By the time it was published two years later, it hit a serendipitous sweet spot for an audience.

“It's nice to see my new book come out, and people are saying, "Oh, Korean food. We all love it. It's like it's been around forever,” she said.

Her next book? “Quick & Easy Mexican Cooking.” Look for it in about two years. It’s not ever likely to be considered esoteric, but no one has a perfect crystal ball for what those 2011 readers will enjoy.

Freelance writer Rebekah Denn blogs at

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