Say it ain’t so!
The March 13 edition of the New York Times dining section included a fascinating story about cookbook ghostwriting, revealing to many foodies that celebrity chefs (and in some cases, plain old celebrities) – like Rachael Ray and Gwyneth Paltrow – don’t actually write their own cookbooks. The story made waves among the reading public, inspiring crestfallen Facebook posts, suspicious second glances at beloved cookbooks, and misgivings about cookbook authors like Ray and Paltrow.
Well, both Ray and Paltrow say it ain’t so.
“Many real-world cooks have wondered at the output of authors like Martha Stewart, Paula Deen and Jamie Oliver, who maintain cookbook production schedules that boggle the mind,” wrote Julia Moskin in The New York Times. “Rachael Ray alone has published thousands of recipes in her cookbooks and magazines since 2005. How, you might ask, do they do it? The answer: they don’t.”
The article goes on to name Wes Martin as a sort-of ghost-cook and ghostwriter for Ray. “It’s like an out-of body experience,” Martin told the Times. “I know who I am as a chef, and I know who Rachael is, and those are two totally separate parts of my brain.”
The day the story – and those damning passages – broke, Ray tweeted a message denying the Times’s claims.
“3-Part tweet: Longtime fan of NY Times dining section, but today they got it wrong re: article on celebrating ghostwriters. My friend Wes (my longtime food stylist) does get me, but does not ghost me. Proud of Wes and proud to be the author of all my cookbooks. I remain a NY Times subscriber.”
Later, she spoke to Eater, a restaurant blog, more strongly denying the article’s claims. “In well over a decade of writing recipes for many cookbooks, television shows, and magazines, I have not now nor have I ever employed a ghostwriter,” she told the blog.
Paltrow also denied the article’s claims in a tweet sent Saturday. The Times story ran with a picture of Paltrow’s cookbook and a caption that read, “Gwyneth Paltrow’s ghostwriter is Julia Turshen.”
Paltrow responded, “Love @nytimes dining section but this weeks facts need checking. No ghost writer on my cookbook, I wrote every word myself.”
The issue, writes the Huffington Post, may be “discrepancies between The New York Times version of what a ghostwriter is, and what Ray and Paltrow call a ghostwriter. The titles are a bit blurred – it can be hard to draw the line between ghostwriting and assisting with a cookbook.”
Moskin tries to clarify in a Dining Journal blog post Monday, in which she said Jamie Oliver, Rachael Ray, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Mario Batali have all acknowledged working with collaborators on their books, but objected to implications that “they were not authors of their own work.”
She goes on to define ghostwriting as such:
“Ghost-cooking is rarer than the routine work of wrestling hot, messy, complicated recipes onto the page in comprehensible English. That work can include transcribing scribbled notes into logical sentences. Measuring out ingredients and putting them in order. Producing the routine bits of the book like the glossary and the guide to ingredients.... The food itself, and the story that surrounds it, usually comes from the chef in varying stages of page-readiness.”
It remains to be seen whether other cooks and chefs will come forward to deny claims of ghostwriting, still a stigma in the food world. Nonetheless, the article sheds light on a fairly common practice in the publishing industry of which few outsiders are aware.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.