Cooking up a banquet of a book

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The last time I met Paul Cocker, co-founder of Meze Publishing and the man behind The Sheffield Cookbook: Second Helpings, he was midway through his souvlaki on a summer’s day at a table outside the Greedy Greek in Sharrowvale Road.

We talked food, we talked cookbooks and he deflected my offer to write for him. So when I got a message that he had ‘something which might interest you,’ after I’d heard on the grapevine that a second edition was planned, I thought he might want a recipe. He didn’t. He wanted a foreword, a sort of amuse bouche before the meal proper.

I was honoured. After all the first edition’s had been penned by the great Mr B, David Baldwin, the grand fromage of the Sheffield food scene, a man who is a legend in so many people’s lunchtimes and evening shindigs.

My foreword is there on page 4 but you’ll be more interested in the book. It’s a belter. It weighs in at just over two pounds avoirdupois, almost the same as a big bag of sugar. Just think of the calories in the 80 or so recipes on its 320 pages featuring almost 70 local enterprises. I’m told that when it came back from the printers Paul was staggered by the size. He must have felt like Monty Python’s Mr Creosote in The Meaning of Life: one more little morsel, one more recipe, and it, too, would have exploded.

This banquet of a book – by contrast the 100 pages smaller first edition was just lunch – is a snapshot of what’s on offer in the city’s eating houses today and who cooks what and why. I commend it to you. He has not paid me. Paul (he is co-director with Exposed Magazine’s Phil Turner) has a wonderful business model which goes something like this.

It is a curious hybrid of the vanity press, where an author pays to have their book published, and that assignment which haunts every local journalist, the advertising feature. This is where he or she interviews the MD of Widgets Ltd and turns in a readable and entertaining account of the widget business for the newspaper.

A book begins when Meze contacts likely producers, chefs and restaurants and gets them to sign up to a chapter. How big that chapter is depends on the payment. Then Meze’s editorial team writes the words and takes the pictures. Copies of the book are then sold to each subscriber, at a discount, who can then resell to their customers (or give them away). How clever is that?

The cookbook idea started on home territory: Sheffield. “At first we printed 6,000. Then when that sold out we printed another 3,000. And then another 3,000,” says Meze’s Anna Tebble. This time, with Second Helpings, Meze has gone for broke and ordered 10,000 copies, pretty good going in the local publishing world.

Flicking through the pages I’ve come across some old friends and acquaintances and others I really must get around to meeting, not always that easy when you no longer have an expense account in your back pocket. There will be some recipes I want to try: Sentinel Brewery’s brown sauce to see which is best, their date or my prune-based sauce; Trippets’ Kalamata biscuits and the Rising Sun’s rolled lamb breast.

Sheffield was the first in a series of over a dozen regional cookery books, from Newcastle to Suffolk. That’s nice for the city to be the first in the food line: usually it’s well down the queue in the food business.

So treat yourself. At £14.95, it’s cheaper than a Baldwin’s Omega plat du jour, not much more than lunch at Sheffield College’s Silver Plate restaurant. Or tell Santa what you want for Christmas. I’ve already got mine.

Web: www.mezepublishing.co.uk

 

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