Chrissy Teigen's cookbook Cravings: Recipes for All the Foods You Want to Eat hits shelves tomorrow, but the shelf she's most concerned about is her own: "I want it to hold up against those other books that I have on my shelf, the ones I'm proud of having," she says. Known for being gorgeous, funny, and married to musician John Legend, "Chrissy is essentially a swimsuit model who understands the internet," says Racked style editor Nicola Fumo of the American model. "She got her start in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue but became 'known' for being sassy on Twitter."
god i fucking LOVE BAGELS— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) February 5, 2016
Teigen's sharp point of view often expresses itself through her food photography on Instagram (where she has 5.2 million followers) and her musings about food on Twitter (where she has 1.29 million followers). On Instagram, Teigen often shares photos of her home-cooked meals, which run the gamut from basic to complex, light to indulgent. On Twitter, Teigen favors comedy and, at times, caps lock. Beyond her prolific social media presence, Teigen also has a food blog called So Delushious. The blog began in 2011 as an old-school food blog, complete with sometimes-questionable photos taken by Teigen herself and recipes that have been tested and prepared by Teigen. But even with her blogging experience, Teigen had concerns about making sure her book would measure up.
"I wanted it to be able to sit next to David Chang's Momofuku cookbook, which I love cooking out of, and Ina's How Easy Is That?, which is one of my favorite books of hers, and Paula [Deen]'s books, and Giada [De Laurentiis]'s," Teigen says. "I didn't want it to be a celebrity cookbook where you're not sure if they really cook or if they just put their name on something. I wanted people to know that these are really the recipes that we love at home."
So is Cravings just another celebrity brand extension or a serious cookbook? Readers might find themselves skeptical of the idea of a model who actually loves to eat — and Teigen knows it. "You just try to be honest with it and hope that people respect your honesty," she says. In other words, she's aware of the apprehension and self-aware of her status as a Beautiful Person — it's the push-pull between her public image (body) and public interests (food) that the book encapsulates.
Why Do People Care What Chrissy Teigen Eats?
"I know! I've wondered that myself honestly," says Teigen, attempting to answer this very question. She chalks it up to trust. "I think people trust the things that I make for the same reason that I trust looking up an Ina Garten or Paula Deen recipe online," says Teigen. "I know that they're going to be tried and true, I know they've been tested a million times, I know they're going to be no-fail, I know they're going to be delicious." She also thinks her and her husband's status as globetrotting celebrities plays into that trust. Her followers "expect somebody like John to have had every kind of food on the planet and been to every restaurant, which he has," she explains, suggesting her and Legend's tastes serve as a metric. "Like, 'If it's enough for John, it'll be good enough for my man; if it's good enough for Chrissy's girl's night, it'll be good enough for my girl's night.'"
Interestingly, Teigen never positions herself as a cooking expert so much as a cooking enthusiast. Award-winning writer Francis Lam — who in his capacity as an editor-at-large for Clarkson Potter scouted Teigen and then edited the book — recalls reaching out to her via Twitter a few years ago and seeing if she wanted to write a cookbook then. "I remember her writing back and saying, 'Oh my God, I would love to, but I have no cred. I would need some cred first,'" Lam says. "I was bummed, because I thought that might be an interesting thing to work on, but I remember thinking, 'Okay, that's cool, that's actually a response with integrity.'"
About a year later, when Teigen was ready to talk cookbooks, Lam recalls her change of attitude. "She finally discovered what she wanted to say, and what gave it credibility was really the fact that she was posting on Instagram and Twitter, and thousands and thousands people of would ask, 'What is that recipe? I want to make that.'" Inspiring fans to get into the kitchen comes from her obvious passion, Lam and Teigen both say in separate conversations.
But there's a sort of knee-jerk answer here that no amount of passion or enthusiasm for cooking can overshadow: Lots of people want to know what female celebrities eat because beauty is a cultural fixation and weight is so tied to beauty — and, yes, obviously, to food. At one level, "we want to put things in our bodies to make our bodies like celebrity bodies," says Racked reports editor Meredith Haggerty. However, "celebrity cookbooks are a bizarre part of this conversation because they almost never give us foods that would do that. We want to know the secrets, but there are no secrets."
Teigen owns that idea in her intro:
It you're expecting a model to write a cookbook full of diet recipes for you to perfect your bikini bod, I think you'll be a little surprised here. These are recipes we love to indulge in with family and friends. Some more hearty than others, some even more hearty than the hearty ones. But every single recipe is something we love. Look, I don't want to be one of those dead-inside laughing-with-a-salad chicks, and I don't want to seem like one of those annoying, "I can eat anything I want anytime" chicks. It's just that I wanted to be honest in this book about the kinds of food I love, the kinds of food I crave. I just have to find ways to make those cravings work with my day job (e.g., sometimes with a well-timed "f*ck it").
And she's right: Lots of models claim to love junk food. The only fear Teigen says she had with the book is that people would find her to be a phony. "I never ever wanted anyone to think that I was that model that pretended to eat pizza because I see right through that and I hate it. I really am very aware of those girls interviewed backstage at New York Fashion Week and they're like, 'All I want is a pizza.' And I'm like, 'No you don't, you're crazy. And you're a liar, too.'" Fumo, who knows her way around fashion week, puts it this way: "Proclaiming that you eat: so hot right now. I actually have respect for her admitting she has to watch what she eats. To me that's much more real and relatable than 'Pizza is my boyfriend!!' We're all hooking up with pizza, dude."
But the fact that Teigen has to explain this so much suggests a different problem altogether. How many bloggers-turned-cookbook authors have to defend the very fact of their bodies against attacks on their credibility? "Ultimately, I think Chrissy Teigen's love of food is a chaotic neutral. It's not good or bad — or it's good and it's bad — but it's going to hit different people differently," says Haggerty. "It's good that she's not stigmatizing food, but it can be confusing and frustrating that consuming her food can contribute to you not looking like her, but adults should know that anyways. I think the unspoken, not-Chrissy-Teigen body is the thing that needs to be de-stigmatized in this conversation. The conversation needs to shift. Chrissy Teigen doesn't need to be involved."
So What's the Deal With the Cookbook?
Cravings is full of easy-to-intermediate recipes broken down into the following chapters: Breakfast All Day, Soupmaster, Salads (For When You Need Them), Noodles and Carbs, Thai Mom, Party Time, Sh*t On Toast, Vegetable Things, Things That Intimidate People But Shouldn't, and Supper. Recipes are introduced with funny anecdotes and first-person descriptions from Teigen. John Legend is a main character in both the write-ups and the photos.
Cooking knowledge or expertise is rarely assumed here. The Thai Mom chapter seems especially useful as resource for manageable Thai recipes that aren't afraid of getting granular: There are recipes for toasted rice (ingredient list: half a cup of jasmin rice), fried sliced garlic (ingredient list: 12 cloves of garlic, canola oil for frying, and kosher salt), and blurbs explaining fish sauce and Thai bird chiles.
Cravings is above all else designed to be a home kitchen-friendly recipe collection that appeals to Teigen's fans and to followers of celebrity culture, who will revel at the intimacy that food inherently offers. By its very nature, Cravings is a celebrity cookbook, and it comes at an interesting time for the genre. When celebrity cookbook patron saint Gwyneth Paltrow released My Father's Daughter in 2011, scandal followed when the New York Times claimed Julia Turshen — credited as a collaborator in that book — was in fact a "ghostwriter," to which Paltrow took grave offense. There was no "ghostwriter," she said, someone who wrote all the words and then signed Paltrow's name. By 2013, Turshen's name was right there on the cover along with Paltrow's for It's All Good. Co-authors accomplish two things: a co-authorship implies the celebrity split the work of the writing (meaning at least some of the words are celebrity-written) and it suggests a desire to participate in serious cookbook culture.
Today, the idea of a chef, let alone a celebrity, tackling a cookbook without a credited co-author is increasingly rare. Celebrities now want their cookbooks to be good, not just buyable. So do their editors. Of Teigen's book, Lam says that "doing a 'celebrity book,' which is my mind is a book that will be tagged a celebrity book, but [one that] is going to be just as funny and human and real as any other book that I'd want to publish was a real thrill."
With chefs inching ever-closer to true celebrity status, famous people who want to get in on the cookbook game have fiercer competition than ever. And as chefs act more and more like celebrities, so celebrities are acting more and more like chefs: writing cookbooks, filling their social feeds with food porn, even becoming restaurateurs themselves. So much has been written on how chefs are increasingly relevant in popular culture, and much has been made (like a podcast) of the idea that "food is the new rock." The celebrity cookbook, then, is the new celebrity album. If Paris Hilton mattered today, maybe Paris would not be the name of a vanity music project but of a cookbook.
Still, some celebrity albums are pretty good. Cravings lives at the collision of two major cookbook trends: food-blog-turned-cookbook and celebrity-as-chef. The book is not a prescription to looking like Chrissy Teigen, nor is it designed to be, in the vein of celebrity-endorsed "diet" books of the past. With Teigen's years-long commitment to food blogging, her book is meant to be a "real" cookbook, and for fans tired of those models-who-loooooove-pizza, it will definitely read as such. Teigen has real fame, a real sense of humor, and a really talented group of collaborators. If any celebrity's cookbook has a shot of winning over non-fans, hers does.
Cravings: Recipes for All the Foods You Want to Eat is published by Clarkson Potter and is on sale February 23rd (order on Amazon).
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