The judges of the Andre Simon Awards last night lambasted the food and drink publishing industry for ‘stupidity, banality, idiocy’ – and for being stuck in the 1950s.
While praising the winners – Decanter writer Stephen Brook for his ‘beautifully written’ Bordeaux – Medoc and Graves (pictured), and food writer Andrew Whitley for Bread Matters – judges Sarah Kemp and Sheila Dillon pulled no punches when it came to the publishing industry as a whole.
Decanter’s publishing director Kemp said, ‘While the content of Stephen Brook’s book is first class, the design is stuck in the 1950s. If you came across this book in a secondhand bookshop in Hay-on-Wye you wouldn’t be surprised.
‘It’s won despite the worst cover I have ever seen on a wine book. No wonder the wine category is in the doldrums.’
Dillon, who presents Radio 4’s Food Programme, said in her speech, ‘Andre Simon would be spinning in his grave if he could see the quality of some of the entries.’
She was speaking at New Zealand House in London, at the presentation ceremony of the Awards set up in memory of the legendary food and wine connoisseur who died in 1970.
Dillon told decanter.com she was referring not to design so much as ‘the sheer stupidity, banality, and idiocy’ of so many food books, many of which were ‘ghost written, rehashes, or by famous chef’s wives, or full of macho posturing.’
Singling out Tana Ramsay – wife of Gordon – for her book Family Kitchen, she said, ‘What does that add to the sum of human knowledge?’
Dillon stressed the best writers were not being elbowed out by such books. She had personally shortlisted 11 which showed ‘real intelligence and originality.’
Oz Clarke’s Bordeaux was commended for its fresh voice and attractive design, the Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson with Julia Harding was also praised for design, as was British Regional Food by Mark Hix.
David Lamb of publishers Mitchell Beazley, which had two books on the shortlist, including Stephen Brook’s winning title, told decanter.com, ‘It feels strange to be criticised for a 1950s approach.’
He pointed out that Mitchell Beazley publishes such household names as The World Atlas of Wine and Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine, as well as Matt Skinner’s top-selling The Juice, ‘one of the very few wine publications that serves a genuinely new and younger market’.
Lamb agreed wine book sales were flat – ‘at less than 10% of food and cookery titles – but we’re doing our level best to serve that market with panache.’
Written by Adam Lechmere