It’s a story so many writers dream of: publishing a cookbook with no author platform. Not only did the author Reem Kassis persevere, but her popular book, The Palestinian Table, appeared on many “Best Cookbooks” lists for the end of the year, including New York magazine, NPR, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Independent, The National Post.
Want to read her cookbook to find out why? Enter The Palestinian Table cookbook giveaway. Read on for details.
Meanwhile, back to the story. The author, Reem Kassis, approached me in 2015 to review her proposal. At that time, Reem was a home cook and mother, a former business consultant with a Wharton MBA who missed the taste of her family’s Palestinian home cooking. She blogged for the Huffington Post, but not about food. She based her cookbook on recipes from her grandmother’s and aunties’ kitchens.
When she contacted me about working on a book proposal, I was interested in coaching her but realized she had no platform. Even so, I never questioned that Reem could pull off the book and get published.
[Update: The contest is now closed. Commenter Kris Diede won a copy of the book.]
Here’s how Reem Kassis got a cookbook deal for The Palestinian Table:
Q. Why did you want to write this book?
A. Living abroad in the US and Europe is what pushed me to put this book together. I wanted people to know what the real food we eat here is like. It’s not the stuff you get in the restaurants and food trucks. Most of all, I wanted my kids to know the same joy and richness of experience that food added to my life growing up, even though they are most likely going to be brought up abroad.
Q. What did you do after finishing the proposal?
A. I took my daughter to a meeting with Phaidon, which had expressed interest. At the same time I started sending emails to agents. I got responses within an hour from many of them. Even Ottolenghi’s agent responded and thought the proposal was great but it was a conflict of interest.
Q. So then what happened?
A. I got the agent I wanted and he shopped the proposal around while waiting for an answer from Phaidon. In the end it went to Phaidon, which published it in the UK and the US.
I signed the deal in London. Halfway through, we had to relocate to the Philadelphia for my husband’s job.
Q. You put photos of your dishes in the proposal but you did not photograph the book.
A. Phaidon hired an Israeli photographer. They wanted a pared back look, so there are few props in the photos. We did the photo shoot at my parent’s house in Jerusalem. All the plates and serveware were my grandmother’s.
Q. How did you get a quote from Anthony Bourdain?
A. I reached out directly to Laurie Woolever, his co-writer, by email.
Q. How and when did you build an online presence to help sell the book?
A. I didn’t start until we started shooting the book. But even now, my online is not huge. I have about 1800 followers on Instagram. It’s nothing. I have a website.
Q. And you didn’t you do much of a book tour.
A. No book tour at all, actually. I signed books at the book launch in London, and I have some events coming up with Mark Vetri.
Q. How did you get so many media interviews?
A. Most of it came through the publisher. The New York Times piece was random, because I reached out to the author about something unrelated.
Q. Why are people so excited about your cookbook?
A. What I’ve heard from a lot of people is that the emotional part of it brings them home to a Palestinian table. Also it’s very authentic because it shows people what we really cook. People are curious and want to learn. All they know is the conflict and now I have a book that is not political. It’s a true narrative about who we are as Palestinians, not just our conflict.
Q. The recipes come from aunties and grandmothers who never wrote them down, right?
A. Right. I had to go sit with my mother and figure out how much sugar was in her hand. In other cases it was recipes I was cooking myself, cooked multiple times. It’s my name on the book but my mother cooked 90 percent of the recipes with me. I’m sharing family recipes and there are lots of contributions.
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About The Palestinian Table cookbook giveaway:
If you’d like a chance to win a copy of The Palestinian Table, leave a comment below by January 23, 2018. I will pick a winner at random from Random.org. This offer is available only to residents of the USA.
(Disclosures: The publisher sent me a copy of The Palestinian Table. I coached the author on her cookbook proposal. This post includes affiliate links.)
Faith Kramer says
There is so much to like about this post but I think what appeals to me the most is this cookbook got written not for money or fame but because of the interconnectiveness between food, home, family, self and soul. The driving force was a passion, an imperative, a calling. I look forward to sharing in that and cooking some of the recipes.
I’d love to cook from this at home.I lived in Dubai and miss all the diverse cuisine the city had to offer. This would be a great addition to my collection 🙂
Gloria Kobrin says
I can identify with trying to figure out old family recipes that were measured by hands and glasses. I did the same with my Great GrandMother’s recipes. Keeping the family history alive through food is very powerful. I look forward to cooking from this book.
What a wonderful story. I would love to learn more about this cuisine, and perhaps include some recipes in my healthy cooking classes!
I’ve wanted to check out this cookbook so I’d love to win a copy.
Sarah Pelletier says
I would love to win this book!
Kris Diede says
Great interview. I love that the photos were done at her mothers house with her grandmothers serving pieces. That just warms my heart.
Lisa Hamed says
Best Food in the world !
Heather AbuSneineh says
I hope this contest is still active, because it says to comment by Jan 2017.
I have been married to my Palestinian husband for 27 years. We just got back from visiting his family in Jerusalem again. I don’t cook enough of his food, because its hard to find the right recipes. I would love to win this cook book.
PS: He just told me that he would like for me to win this cook book, because I am an honorary Palestinian after all these years. : )
This proves the importance of a well-written proposal! Congratulations to both of you!
Hinna Chaudhry says
I’d love to start the new year with a culinary bang, and this would definitely do the trick.
The food photos are delightful. I know the recipes are going to be delicious! !! Would truly love to cook from this wonderful book!!! Please make my dream come true!!!
The photos are delightful!
I know the recipes are delicious!
I would love to cook from this wonderful book!
Please make my dream come true! Thank you for reading my message! !! Have a nice day!!
Diana M Tarasiewicz says
Hands and glasses were the measures of choice in my Godmother’s kitchen as well. I learned so much from her. I look forward to reading and cooking from this wonderful book. Thank you for the contest.
I’d love to have this book to cook some authentic recipes.
Diana M Tarasiewicz says
Hands and glasses were the measure of choice in my Godmother’s kitchen as well. I learned so much from her. I look forward to the joy of reading this book and cooking from it. Thanks for the contest!
Janice Feuer Haugen says
So enjoyed this interview, Dianne. Very touching that the photos took place at her parent’s home in Jerusalem with her grandmother’s serve ware. This makes for a book with soul.
La Torontoise says
Dianne, I saw this book in amazon.com and looked at it. I was very enthusiastic about the recipes. Would love to have my own copy: -)
Sheila Johnson says
Can’t wait to try these recipes.
Gary Allen says
Aside from the obvious quality of the work, I’m impressed by the range of promotions she she used, and her ingenuity in finding and using them. Very unusual in a new author!
Suzanne Figliola says
Some of my favorite cookbooks are like this one, inspired by the desire to capture the foodways of a family or culture. I’d love to take a closer look at Palestinian home cooking.
Anne Ritchings says
I would love to have a copy of this book. It sounds intriguing and delicious.
Dee Johnson says
I would love to read this book. I haven’t tried Palestinian foods before, but I would love to!
Love this story about an author who defied the odds by having a great story that resonates with people now. Would love to have her book!
Bravo to you, Diane, for helping and coaching, and to Reem, for creating this wonderful book-such a enduring link to a valuable culture. No question that this cookbook holds many treasures that I would love to discover, along with many cooks around the world. Fingers crossed!
Greg Patent says
My Iraqi Jewish Granny cooked and baked with pinches and handfuls, too, and many, many decades later those memories live and linger. I would love to cook from this book.
Trinni Stevens says
My mother-in-law taught me a lot about cooking. One thing she mentions about her own mother-in-law, who taught her more about cooking, is that every time she would ask her how much of an ingredient to put into a recipe, the answer was always measured with her hand. It makes me laugh to hear her stories.
Martha Vining says
Testing her own recipes with her mother really speaks to the authenticity and sense of place that ‘The Palestinian Cookbook’ is about.
Christy white says
Excited to learn about this book! And would love to win a copy. 🙂
Lynn Archer says
What an inspirational story about what looks and sounds like an inspirational cookbook.
Thanks for sharing this, Dianne.
Carmen Leidel says
the book sounds interesting. I love trying things out from different areas.
I would love to win this cookbook because of the intent and heart put into the recipes and writing. Any meal cooked with that start in the recipe will be delicious. Thank you for putting your culture, heart, and family recipes together to share with us Reem, and Thank you Diane for sharing her story and this opportunity.
Such an important publishing to have at a time when preserving our culture is being threatened. The author is such an inspiration.
Anne @ Webicurean says
I would love a copy of this book! I love learning about other cuisines, and this sounds wonderful.
Fiona Young-Brown says
If the photos here are anything to go by, I can’t wait to try the recipes in this book.
Iris Gonzalez says
Sometimes, the most compelling reason to write a book is for yourself. In this case, the author was able to capture the recipes from her upbringing to pass along to her children.
How fortunate we are as readers to benefit as well! I would love to try some of her family’s recipes in the book. It’d be a great way to taste Palestine, even if I cannot travel there.
Jane Elspeth says
Thanks so much to you and author for the giveaway! The book looks gorgeous and I love both the story of how it was published, and that the photos were taken in her mother’s kitchen!
Alisa Sever says
Great post! Please enter me in the drawing.
What a great story! Thanks for sharing it, I’d love to have this book in my collection and to explore Palestinian recipes further.
Meghan B. says
There is so much I love about this book! I have been trying to work my way around the globe with my cookbook collection and Palestine is the next place I’ve been dying to go!
Denise Cox says
What a great testimony to the fact that we can turn a vision into a reality! Thank you for that inspiration. I’m going to look forward to cooking from your book, whether or not I win the copy! Best to you both!
I would love to try some of the recipes in this book.
This books looks great
Rosemary Mark says
Wonderful to see how someone shares their roots through food in such an eloquent book. Would love to see it and cook from it! Thanks to you for helping to bring the book to life.
Judy Hamilton says
I love this: “I had to go sit with my mother and figure out how much sugar was in her hand… It’s my name on the book but my mother cooked 90 percent of the recipes with me.” This alone makes me want this cookbook!
Jill Lucas says
I’ve heard so much about this book but didn’t know the author’s story. Inspired by her courage and belief in the power of food to tell shared stories.
Anne Stephenson says
Always exciting to be introduced to new stories and tastes in food. Will be adding this to my 2018 wish list.
Tawnya Azar says
This cookbook is on my wish list! I am just now learning how to cook Palestinian food thanks to my new in-laws who hail from Aboud. They are excellent cooks, and now I’m as in love with their cuisine as I am with their son!
Max Strieb says
This looks like a lovely book. I visited neighboring Israel many years ago when I was 13, and in my immaturity, almost exclusively ate schnitzel. (Not that there’s anything wrong with a good schnitzel.) I would love to go back to sample the foods of the many different cultures of the region. This book will allow me to explore the foods of one of those cultures in depth. Thank you Reem for sharing your family’s recipes and Dianne for sharing this book.
Congratulations on such a beautiful work and the love that translated it into a success.
What a smart idea with the baklava!
Anna Mindess says
Great story! Love the Palestinian dishes I’ve eaten. Crossing fingers.
I wish, I had a positive experience with this book. I’ve been cooking learning and study Arab Mediterranean food for 17 years. Unfortunately, when cooking with this cookbook my recreations were less than desired. The ratios are almost all off, if you’re not accustomed and familiar with Arab food this book may actually cause you to create many failures.
The photography and storylines are beautiful just beware of flour or bread ratios. I made 6 recipes so far and I had to fix them with the correct measurements.
Debi Pugliese says
First, giant ‘Thank You’ to Dianne Jacob for this website! I literally just found it today, January 23, 2018 – ironically the deadline for this very special contest opportunity. As a “budding” cookbook author, I too have no platform – but there is such a strong calling to this project that I simply can no longer ignore it. And so my research led me here… I was captivated and applaud out loud, Reem Kassis’ story. I am convinced the success of her book is a recipe in and of itself. Pursue your passions. Do what you KNOW and what you love. Don’t do it for money. Don’t do it for fame. Don’t do it for ego. Do it because something deep in your DNA says “I must.” And it grabs you awake in the middle of the night… and whispers secrets in your ear… until you are convinced that it’s God Himself speaking to you…. ” Do this my child. I have authored this into your destiny.” I would be so incredibly honored to win a copy of this book. Filled with renewed inspiration and refueled by this post to have the courage and belief to follow my path by this wonderful website!