The World Gourmand Paris Cookbook Fair, a four-day celebration of the world of food and especially cookery books, was held this year on 3–6 March. It kicked off with a glittering awards ceremony at Paris's Folies Bergères. Gosset Champagne flowed as the winners trooped to the stage, one by one, to receive their certificates. There were 200 winners in every imaginable category from Best Chocolate Book to Best Book of African Cuisine. The Guild triumphed, however, when Lewis Esson mounted the stage to accept the award for the Best Food History Book in the World for the Guild’s own How the British Fell in Love with Food.
The Fair is the culmination of the initiative by Edouard Cointreau to honour the world’s cookery books and give them the place they deserve as a mainstay of publishing. As Edouard points out in his introduction to the Awards Book for 2011, the Gourmand World Cookbook awards ‘are unique in the publishing sector. No other books benefit from worldwide competition involving 154 countries’.
The awards have moved around the globe but have finally found a home in Paris, at the Cent’Quatre, a former abattoir turned into an elegant exhibition venue (which proved too small for this year’s awards ceremony, attended by over 1,000 visitors). The Festival was the scene of cookery demonstrations, samplings, publishers selling rights and antiquarian booksellers displaying their wares. Italy was the focal country this year, and among the delicacies to be sampled were fabulous hand-crafted lardo from Colonnata, as well as mixed herbs, vanilla and lavender, hot pepper flakes, and lemon with grappa.
Other countries were also well represented by specialist food stands such as the Périgord Farmers, where all types and grades of foie gras were on sale, and a stand where Swedish chefs served the most delicious local cheeses sampled with crisp paper-thin flatbread, flecked with herbs and salt.
Nor were the drinks forgotten. There were many wine tastings (including the less well-known wines of Cyprus, among the oldest in the world) and lectures given by wine writers. A Cognac workshop transported us into the Vendée in the autumn, damp leaves and fragrant scents were evoked as we listened and sipped. There was a fabulous Mojito party, and a lecture on pisco and pisco sours. A cheese face-off pitched British cheeses against French which, surprisingly, was won by the British!
Each day around noon the Malaysian contingent offered magnificent entertainment – delicious tastings accompanied by dance performances in national dress, orchestrated and brought to the fair by Chef Wan, who was recently honoured with the Malaysian equivalent of a knighthood. The Malaysian food varied each day: fried titbits, fish stew from Terrenganu, saté, pressed rice cakes, beehon noodles with seafood, Hainan chicken. There were two demonstration kitchens, one in French, which included Alain Passard among other notables, while the international kitchen tended to be a little more flamboyant. Demonstrators included Chef Wan, the award-winning Vefa Alexiou from Greece, and Guild member James McIntosh. Paris's Cordon Bleu students assisted in the kitchens, keeping everything running smoothly. Another stand deserving a special mention was that of the Lebanese Women of Trinidad and Tobago whose wonderful cookery book Ahlén was another prize-winner.
Meanwhile, food writers and cookbook authors from all over the world mingled, chatted, made contacts and sampled the goodies on offer. Then, at the end of each day, there was Paris, and all of its delicious eating opportunities beckoned.
Guild members seen at the fair included publisher Anne Dolamore of Grub Street; Indian cookery writer Mridula Baljekar, who will be demonstrating at the London Book Fair at the World Gourmand exhibit in April; James McIntosh, Juliet Harbutt, Lewis Esson and Julie Biuso. And the two of us, of course.