How To Write A Cookbook With Matt And Ted Lee

Lessons from the Lee Brothers' Cookbook Boot Camp

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Want to boil up some Low Country gumbo or learn to make a lovely syllabub with rosemary-glazed figs? The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen has got you covered.

But if you're a restaurant chef with a compelling tale to tell and have zero idea how the publishing game is played, you'll want to get yourself down to Charleston in person. The sartorialy-minded Southern siblings will be sharing their wisdom in a pair of two-day intensive workshops next month designed to whip aspiring authors into shape.

For those without a book in us, Matt and Ted stopped by the other day to explain how a few rules of great cookbook writing can turn us all into smarter cooks, eaters and readers.

Define your brand

Just like restaurant chefs, home cooks can benefit from some introspection. "Think of yourself as a cookbook writer," Ted says. "What does the food in your repertoire say about you as a cook or a person?"

Write headnotes for life

"For us, the headnotes before a recipe are everything," Matt says. "So many Food Network stars' books have almost no headnotes. For us, that's really the place to draw in a reader and explain what's behind a dish and how to serve it." Ted: "Why'd you choose a particular dish on this specific day. It's all about thinking: What story are you telling with the dishes you serve your guests?"

Judge a book by its introduction

Look for cookbooks that transport you. Matt: "You want something that induces a mood. When every element–the visuals, the words, the details–are all seamlessly tied together and puts you in a certain mood, that's a pretty good indicator of the quality of the book." Ted: "Read those first paragraphs of an intro; they'll let you know if you want to continue."

Know thy cooking self

"Are you the kind of cook who needs a scientific formula or do you just want a jumping off point?" Ted asks. "I'm a recipe follower; Matt's much more of an intuitive cook who likes to get the idea from a book then go in his own direction based on what he's got in his pantry." Figure out what style works for you and look for cookbooks that deliver the level of instruction you need.

Finally, we asked what books they were liking this season. "There are a ton of great new Southern books. Ed Lee's book, Smoke & Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen is amazing. John Currence's Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey: Recipes from My Three Favorite Food Groups and Then Some is really good." Matt: "We're both super excited about Amy Thielen's The New Midwestern Table: 200 Heartland Recipes. She brings out the cultural food influece of this region that hasn't been adequately explored."