Jamie Oliver did the same trick at the end of the 1990s, with his Naked Chef (again, telly plus book) pulling in a whole new audience who saw him as a kind of rock star rather than a cook. Cooking became fun, and deeply cool, something boys could do, because Jamie O did it.
Since then the surest way to getting published as a cookery writer has been to be first famous as a chef (Gordon Ramsay, Tom Kerridge, Marcus Wareing, Rick Stein, Yotam Ottolenghi et al) and then to have a successful telly series. Then every publisher is interested.
Amateurs can do it by winning MasterChef (like Thomasina Miers), but only a very few journalists and home cooks, however good their writing, get their books published before they’re on television. And getting on television is even harder than getting published. Nigella Lawson and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall both managed it without being famous chefs first. But it’s rare.
Now the look of the book dictates the sale. In my day you could still buy a good cookbook in paperback with no pictures at all. I doubt if that would sell today. But those books were much used: they lived in the kitchen and got splattered with custard and gravy. Today, if we cook, we google it. New cookbooks lie on the coffee table and we drool over Tuscan landscapes and rustic bread ovens. Before ordering in a pizza.
Prue Leith features in Sunday’s edition of The Reunion, 11.15am Radio 4 FM. Her new novel, Food of Love: Laura’s Story, is published by Quercus on 17 September (£19.99 hardback)