How a Culinary Legend Reaches a New Generation: A Q&A with Silvia Lehrer

by Allison Horton on

Passing down recipes, a 1985 cookbook becomes a 2012 eBook.

Having studied at Le Cordon Blue and La Varenne, Silvia Lehrer opened a cooking school, Cooktique, in 1976, and published her definitive cookbook, Cooking at Cooktique, in 1985.  Now Silvia takes the next natural step in our digital age by re-releasing these recipes with The Simple Art of Cooking series, ten “bite-sized” eBooks focused on a single category: Salad, Soup, Eggs, Pasta, Vegetables, Meat, Fish, Potatoes & Rice, Pastries & Breads, and Desserts, at $1.99 each.  Seven are already on Vook's store, with the rest to come!

A teacher at heart, Silvia ensures that each book teaches its readers how to easily integrate exceptional cooking into everyday life.  The books begin with an introduction to the topic, familiarizing the reader with the ingredients and best practices, and end with a section on building a solid kitchen inventory.  In between lie dozens of time-tested recipes, created and fine-tuned 30 years ago at her school.

Of course there have been changes over the years, notes Silvia.  She credits the greater affordability of previously foreign ingredients—Italian oils and French mustards for example—in expanding a cook’s possibilities.  The recent emphasis on reducing sodium intake has spurred a greater interest in cooking with herbs and spices.  And the advent of ePublishing, as Silvia celebrates, allows her knowledge and recipes to reach generations old and new.  Great recipes have never been so easy—or easy to find!

Can you please describe these eCookbooks for new readers? 

These eBooks are basically a cooking class for everyone.  The idea is that, whether you're a beginner or an advanced chef, here are the fundamental techniques in cooking these foods. You can't come to my cooking school anymore, but I can come to you in these books!

Why did you decide to create these bite-sized eBooks at this point in time?

I believe food is magic. It makes us happy, binds us together as friends and family.  And yet so many are intimidated by the idea of cooking or trying something new in the kitchen. I'm a teacher at heart. I ran my cooking school for decades. And this book, the best of my recipes and the footprint of my culinary instruction, was unavailable. Making these recipes and instructions available seemed like not just an opportunity, but a necessity.

Should your readers start with one book in particular?

I think that the soups and salads are great starting places. And though there are some challenging recipes in those books, there are also many, many simple ones, that will allow anyone to feel like they made something themselves, and can be proud of it, and gain some confidence to keep going.

How do you feel about the volume of recipes that are readily available on websites?

It's wonderful that such resources exist. But for the beginner, or even for the veteran, those massive archives are overwhelming. In a way, they're not unlike the Amazon bookstore! So many choices--what do I buy, what is good, what should I cook?  The Simple Art of Cooking series is the opposite. It's essential. There is a sense of authenticity to this work because the recipes started in a teaching kitchen, with students preparing the dishes everyday.  All the kinks were worked out.

Do you think there are advantages to publishing digital cookbooks instead of print?

Absolutely. How else could I package small collections, so focused on single topics? Print publishing would never support it. And think of how wonderful this is for aspiring chefs and cooks of all kinds! They can spend just a couple of dollars and have a full range of recipes for eggs or pastries or pasta. No big commitment of $30 for a heavy book. I think this is a great chance to share a legacy of culinary care with a new generation.

Do you have any advice for people "going digital"? 

Be fearless, but find a guide. Someone who knows the space and can help you navigate the opportunities and avoid any pitfalls. I'm in my 80s, but I have a Mac, I’m on email every day, I Tweet and Facebook and blog.  However, digital publishing is an art and a science, and just like cooking, anyone could use a good teacher. Just as I aim to teach my readers the simple art of cooking well, I relied upon my teachers, Jason Allen Ashlock and Vook, to teach me how to publish well!

Check out the series on Vook's Store and stay up to date on Silvia's latest news.

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