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Cookbook ghostwriting expose stirs up controversy

Gwyneth Paltrow wrote “every word” of this book herself.

Last week, The New York Times ran a story by Julia Moskin about the humiliations she suffered as “one of the ink-stained (and grease-covered) wretches” who ghostwrite cookbooks.

Now, as Galleycat reports, other ghostwriters have come forward, suggesting it’s time for Moskin to get out of the kitchen. The blog Gotham Ghostwriters polled some professionals, who were “shocked by Moskin’s initial naïveté and eventual cynicism, disappointed by her characterization of their craft, and amazed that she’d managed to get herself into such disadvantageous situations time and again.”

In her exposé, Moskin claims that celebrity cookbook authors Gwyneth Paltrow, Rachael Ray, Jamie Oliver, and Mario Batali – all of whom deny the accusation – employ ghostwriters. On Twitter, Paltrow told her fans, “Love @nytimes dining section but this weeks facts need checking. No ghost writer on my cookbook, I wrote every word myself.” Ray defended her books on “In well over a decade of writing recipes for many cookbooks, television shows, and magazines, I have not now nor have I ever employed a ghost writer.”

Yesterday, Moskin dealt with the backlash by clarifying her definition of ghostwriting on the Times’ Diner’s Journal blog:

While the article dealt with a wide range of assistance, it became clear that the notion of “ghostwriting” carried a strong stigma in the food world. It suggested that the food itself — the ingredients, the flavors, the techniques — was invented by someone else. This does sometimes happen (call it “ghost-cooking”), and the chefs who engage in it are the objects of a special kind of scorn.

Ghost-cooking is rarer than the routine work of wrestling hot, messy, complicated recipes onto the page in comprehensible English. That work can include transcribing scribbled notes into logical sentences. Measuring out ingredients and putting them in order. Producing the routine bits of the book like the glossary and the guide to ingredients.

That is cookbook ghostwriting, as I and many others have experienced it. The food itself, and the story that surrounds it, usually comes from the chef in varying stages of page-readiness.

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