An Interview with NGI Grad and Cookbook Author Chloe Coscarelli
After graduating from the Natural Gourmet Institute's Chef’s Training Program, Chloe Coscarelli broke onto the culinary scene as the first vegan chef to capture the prize on Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.” Then, she has published three bestselling cookbooks, "Chloe’s Kitchen," "Chloe’s Vegan Desserts" and "Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen." In her third book, Chloe proves you don’t have to give up pastas in creamy sauces, cheesy-style pizzas or luscious tiramisu to eat vegan. Plus, she adds some distinctly delectable twists to make vegan Italian cuisine every bit as delicious as the originals.
We got to speak with Chloe about her cookbook and career as an author and got some words of advice about cookbook publishing.
Did you start culinary school with the idea of eventually writing books?
When I came to NGI, I had no clue what I wanted to do. I just wanted to learn how to cook. As I started learning and cooking new recipes at school and for Friday Night Dinner, friends would be asking for the recipe. It was fun to put recipes down on paper and share them and it got me to start thinking in the cookbook direction.
What were some challenges you encountered when writing your first cookbook that you did not anticipate?
I wasn’t prepared that I would have to test the recipes as many times as I did. I thought you just make the recipe, it’s good, and then you test it again, and that’s it. But I never imagined that I would get to testing a recipe 30 or 40 times. There are some recipes I’m certain I’ve tested over one hundred times. I’d start working on a recipe in January, let’s say, and the following year I’d be like, “Wasn’t I working on this a year ago? And I’m still working on it?” I never expected it to be as tedious, but the recipes need to be tested over and over to be perfect.
Once you had a book concept, what was your criteria for choosing a publisher? How did you know you had found “the one”?
I’ve worked with Simon & Schuster for all three of my books. My editor there is wonderful and I really connect with her. When I was choosing publishers, I came to New York to meet with a bunch of them, and Simon & Schuster were the ones who brought me vegan Babycakes cupcakes for the first meeting so I amazed with them from that point because they knew what vegan was and where to get it. Then I started to get to know them and realized how knowledgeable they were and it seemed like a good fit.
How did you know the other publishers were not for you? There are a lot of great publishers in New York but you have to make sure you have the same long term picture for your author career. There were some that wanted to pigeonhole me into just dessert. But I really liked that Simon & Schuster were open to exploring all areas of vegan cuisine with me.
Is it possible to change publishers throughout a writing career? Is this common among your peers?
It’s totally normal. It really depends on the project, so for each project you should choose the best publisher that will connect with it.
How involved are you in making styling decisions, as far as the cover and photography in your books? Do you bring specific ideas or does your publisher make decisions for you?
The latter is probably often the case but me, I’m extremely picky and have a very strong sense of what I want something to look like so I’m on the pushier side of always trying to impose my vision and go with what I’ve been imagining when creating the book. I’m sure there are other authors who are just concerned with the content and let the publisher handle it, but aesthetically, it’s really important for me to be involved. In this book, for instance, I did a lot of the photography myself.
Most first-time authors don’t have a solid idea of the compensation they can expect for a book. Would you say cookbook writing can sustain a living?
I don’t think cookbook writing is a way to sustain a living in the long run, but potentially, depending on how you live for a period of time, it will do. It all depends on the author’s priorities and goals but it is very expensive to make a cookbook. The photography is extremely expensive - the author has to pay for that herself. And as for the recipe testing, the author pays for the ingredients.
The bigger question is how much you’re putting into your book. I think a novelist can probably make a slightly better living because novelists only need a computer to type on. But any book that involves visual aspects, like photography, food styling and recipe testing, can get really expensive. Personally, I put more money into my books than I receive but that’s because I have a very high standard of how I want them to turn out. Don’t expect to be rolling in money from your book, but it’s a great platform to start doing other things that can bring in a little more revenue. So the point is, don’t write a cookbook unless you really love it because you’re really getting paid more with the gratification of having all your recipes together in a way you’ve always dreamed of.
What doors has cookbook writing opened for you?
A book is great because you have a platform with which to publicize your recipes on TV and radio, and write in as an expert in magazines and newspapers. It can lead to speaking and teaching jobs, which is great. The possibilities are endless and it’s just a great package to show people what your recipes are all about; it serves as your resume and business card.
How was writing your first book different from working on your second and third? Does it get easier, harder, stay the same?
It’s more challenging in that you’re trying to come up with new material, but at the same time, you’re used to the process and the deadline looming over you so in that sense, you know what to expect. In general, you learn to focus on what’s really important versus stressing about what was maybe just unfamiliar in the beginning. For example, the proofreading stage when you’re editing your manuscript - that freaked me out the first time, like, “I have to read through 300 pages? I’ll never catch all the errors!” But the second time around, I was very focused and now I have it down. And the cover could be problematic, too. You put in all this work to make it perfect and then they send it to the printer, where the colors get calibrated, so you never know exactly how it’s going to turn out. In my first book, I was wearing a light pink shirt for the cover photo and when I got the book, the shirt was burgundy. You have to remember that your book is in many people’s hands before you actually see it. Now I know to think about how I can get a proof from the printer first.
Winning Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” helped you get your first book deal. How would you advise those without such a privilege to approach a future in cookbook writing?
Put together a proposal – a sample of some recipes, photos and descriptions. Mention who your book will speak to and why you want to write it. I’d also suggest being really active online. Find your target audience so publishers can see you’re an expert and people are listening to you. Someone once said to me, if you can just get 1000 followers on any of the popular platforms, that’s enough to make an impact. It’s probably the first question publishers will ask you when you take a meeting.
Your niche is vegan cooking. Are there other topics or twists on the vegan lifestyle you’d like to explore in the future?
That’s a good question. I’m open to suggestions – come on Facebook and tell me what you want to see!
This interview was conducted on September 12, 2014 by the Natural Gourmet Institute. It has been edited for length. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center.