A Cookbook Author’s Not So Secret Weapons Chapter 1

A Cookbook Author’s Not So Secret Weapons Chapter 1

When I started writing cookbooks, I walked miles through thigh-high snow to the post office to mail the 400-page, typed, double-spaced manuscript. Not. But I do remember a time before in-home fax machines. Late for a dealine, I rushed to Fed Ex and used their then brand-new Zapmail fax service, thrilled that the manuscript would land on the editor’s desk that same day. Today authors and editors assume instant delivery.

While manuscript delivery systems have changed, many book-writing processes have not. One of the most important tools when writing a book in the “voice” of another is a good, old tape recorder. Of course, these are digital. Which I discovered when I took my micro-cassette transcriber to Radio Shack to see if it could be fixed.

That left me with two-plus days of cassette recordings of Hubert Keller telling me stories that would eventually become Hubert Keller’s Souvenirs: Stories and Recipes from my Life. Now totally paranoid that if I used just one recorder it might go on the fritz and I’d lose the precious memories, I bought a digital recorder and kept both it and the micro-cassette recorder running throughout our work together.

After five days of recording, 23 hours of conversation needed transcription. And I had two problems: both the “how” and the “when?!” of the transcription—eventually, there would be about 40 hours—and how to digitize the analog recordings.

One friend hooked me up with someone to do the digitizing but that left the transcription problem. Timothy Ferriss’s 4-Hour Work Week discussed virtual assistants, but how would I find the right one for my project? A lucky question to a yoga buddy revealed the answer: Virtual Assistants Israel. There I found Natalie Washington whose accomplishments included authoring a cookbook. My girl!


Success Angels

She has since started her own virtual assistant company, Success Angels. The native English-speaking college graduates and professionals live in Israel and offer a wide variety of services including transcription, SEO, graphic design, WordPress blogs, administrative work, and personal assistance.

The necessity of emailing those large audio files taught me about Dropbox. That was a relief and a huge time saver. Meanwhile, I wish I knew then what I know now about transcribing. This tip will save you—and whoever transcribes your recordings—massive amounts of time and stress: Record a vocabulary that includes pronunciation and spelling!

Hubert and his wife Chantal have charming French accents which I find easy to understand. But imagine if you don’t speak French and words come at you such as l’Auberge de l’Ill, Paul Bocuse (soft “s”), and Roger Vergé (both “g”s sound like “j”). Imagine having no written notes to refer to, no audio to refer to. Imagine the brain freeze every time you hear one of those words. They will sound slightly different each time, and different in the mouth of each speaker. Now multiply by the thousands.

Bless her heart, my virtual assistant persevered and eventually I had transcriptions that would become the text for Hubert Keller’s Souvenirs. A discussion thread some months ago in the Facebook group, Cookbook Friends, revealed most of us have assistants, be they family members who pitch in for free to a circle of supporters with specific skills including virtual assistants. They can do just about anything that can be accomplished with a computer, telephone or fax machine from reviewing and fixing links on a website to market research to getting flowers delivered.

Even though both Hubert’s name and mine are on the cover of Hubert Keller’s Souvenirs as authors, a whole tribe of folks made the book possible. And for all of them—the chefs at Fleur de Lys, the friends who tested recipes, the ones who listened and advised, the crew (especially our editor Jean Lucas) at Andrews McMeel, our agent Carole Bidnick, and for Natalie Washington, I am so grateful.

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One Response to “A Cookbook Author’s Not So Secret Weapons Chapter 1”

  1. Debra
    27. September 2012 um 11:46

    Beautiful, Penni. It does take a tribe to create a publication. I’m intrigued with Natalie’s business and will look at her website and pass on to others. Can barely wait for ‘Souvenirs’ to be released in October!


I have known her for years and been impressed by her willingness to understand in detail each phase of the wine business. She has vision, common sense and tenacity.

-Robert Mondavi

About Penni

Over 30 years as a food and wine professional, writer, and editor.

Cookbook author including:
'The Tra Vigne Cookbook' for Michael Chiarello,
'The Basque Kitchen' for Gerald Hirigoyen
and 'BurgerBar' for Hubert Keller.

Contact Penni Wisner