There was a time when celebrity chefs were rare. When I was growing up, there was Julia Child and...umm...does Famous Amos count?
Now celebrity chefdom is easier to achieve than ever. Cordon Bleu training is no longer a prerequisite—a perky (or, in some cases, cranky) personality and a knack for coining catch phrases will do. Next thing you know— Bam!—you not only have your own cooking show and bestselling cookbooks but a glossy magazine and a line of cooking utensils and EVOO.
It all seems so easy, even celebrities from other fields—actors, rappers, venerable poets—are getting into the cookbook act. Would you trust Coolio's guidance in the kitchen? Dolly Parton's? Roger Ebert's? They've all written cookbooks in the last few years. Whether they're any good I don't know, but that may be irrelevant to fans—or those with a taste for novelty.
The following is a list of some notable recent titles. I won't call this a gift guide, since I can't vouch for any of them. But you never know, one of these may be the perfect last-minute gift for someone on your list.
First, this year brought a pair of titles from people known for their writing, though in different genres. Maya Angelou, the octogenarian poet, author and, as her official website plainly states, "global renaissance woman," just released Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart. In it, Angelou lays out her philosophy for a healthful diet: eat small amounts of flavorful foods (without counting calories) throughout the day. She also shares personal anecdotes and reflections on her decades of traveling and eating, plus recipes including oxtail stew, chicken tetrazzini and Swedish hash. This is actually Angelou's second cookbook; her first, Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes, came out in 2004.
The other writer who turned his pen to cookery in 2010—though, sadly, cancer has robbed him of the ability to eat—is Roger Ebert, the longtime newspaper and TV film critic. I have a soft spot in my heart for him: watching Siskel & Ebert was a Sunday night ritual in my family. My dad, who bore a slight resemblance to Ebert back when they were both heavier, would jot down the names of the movies the two critics recommended each week. In fact, maybe I should get my dad a copy of The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker; if he follows Ebert's cooking advice as slavishly as he followed his movie recommendations, my mother might even get a break from the kitchen now and then. Judging from the reviews on Amazon, some people were disappointed by the ratio of recipes to rice-cooker boosterism, but those who enjoy Ebert's writing will probably give it an enthusiastic two thumbs up.
Coolio, the 1990s rap star, best known for the hit song "Gangsta's Paradise," made his cookbook debut last year, with Cookin' with Coolio: 5 Star Meals at a 1 Star Price. The self-described Ghetto Gourmet wants to show you "how to become a kitchen pimp," pushing dishes like Your Ribs Is Too Short to Box with God; My Chicken Is Having a Baby, Baby; and Cold Shrimpin'. Not for those offended by casual mention of "dime-bags" or gratuitous references to a woman's rear end.
One of country music's most famous stars, Dolly Parton, penned a cookbook in 2006. Dolly's Dixie Fixin's serves up country fare from the Tennessee-bred singer-songwriter, including dishes from her Dollywood theme park, family members, and her favorite restaurants.
Amy Sedaris, lesser known than her essayist brother David but at least as quirk-tastic, starred in the short-lived Comedy Central series Strangers with Candy. In 2006, Sedaris released I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. It's part cookbook, part compendium of kitsch. Recipes include Amy Sedaris's Li'l Smokey Cheeseball and Katie's Smack Snacks for Rabbits. If you like the book, you may also be interested in her latest title, Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People.
Maybe it's just because I'm half watching Jeopardy! at the moment, but personally, I'm holding out for an Alex Trebek cookbook. The chapter titles write themselves: "Potent Potables;" " I'll Take Foods with the Letter Q, Alex;" and "Oh, You Picked the Wrong Won-ton."