Pascale Naessens is a match for Naked Chef

17 October 2015
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As published in De Standaard on 17/10/2015

Pascale Naessens has written the best cookbooks of the past 20 years. At the Frankfurt Book Fair, she won the title of ‘Best of the Best’ in the category ‘Best Series’.

Cookbooks form an increasingly large part at book fairs. This applies in Antwerp, and it is the same situation at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the largest in the world. An entire hall is exclusively dedicated to cooking, with books from all over the world. The French organization Gourmand International used this opportunity and judged the 'Best of the Best', the best cookbooks of the past twenty years. This is a selection with a few dozen categories. From simply the best cookbook, a prize which Jamie Oliver succeeded in winning with his ‘The Naked Chef’, to the best cookbook series, an award that went to Pascale Naessens for the six books that she has published. Six books which, from a glance at the top ten from last week, hold the top six places in the list of non-fiction/leisure-time books. There are no traces of successful TV chefs Jeroen Meus and Piet Huysentruyt in that same top.

We don’t know exactly how many Flemish households have copies of her books on their coffee tables and kitchen tables. Naessens has never revealed figures. ‘This is a matter of principle to me’, she says. ‘Otherwise, you just get wrong interpretations and nasty responses.’ However, the fact that the first print of her latest book Pure food 2 (Puur eten 2) was marketed with a record 110,000 copies already reveals a great deal.

Comfort factor

Six books in six years and making them the best series in the world. It must be an art in a market which initially appears to have been saturated long ago. ‘However, a cookbook is no longer what it used to be’, said Edouard Cointreau of the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Frankfurt during the presentation of the awards on Thursday evening. ‘Twenty years ago, cookbooks lay in a corner somewhere, they were an item for fanatics or specialists. In today’s complex world, they have become a comfort factor, an escape route to another universe.’ A point where Pascale Naessens and the spirit of time meet each other: 'In my opinion, there is nothing worse than reducing food to technical recipes. To me, food is to do with creating an atmosphere, connecting with people.’

That connection presents the best showcase for Naessens. ‘To cook Naessens-style’ has not quite become a verb. Readers, and especially female readers, only need one dish to exchange with each other the significant glance of ‘Pascale Naessens?' It fits within this trend that the range of lifestyle products in the wake of her books continues to grow and in addition to olive oil, furniture, crockery and table linen, salt and pepper will also soon come on the market.

‘Six years ago, I could never have imagined it’, she says. ‘My departure point was my own philosophy, my own ideas, the science within which I personally was engrossed. I myself wanted to eat differently, away from refined food with an overload of carbohydrates, because I too had developed health problems because of that. I didn’t think for a minute that a book about my vision of healthy nutrition would be successful. But apparently I intuitively approached it in a different way than the books about health at that time: I was not restrictive, did not forbid anything, wrote that it was fine to eat fat and just made people want to eat healthily.’

Health

A strategy which we could perhaps learn something from during these times of the disputed sugar tax? ‘You cannot deny that we have a problem. Many people eat too much sugar, which leads to all kinds of health problems. And you just know that the problem will only get worse. But is the sugar tax the solution? I don’t believe in it. You must not deal with the temptation but make people more resistant to the temptation. I also notice that amongst my readers and the reactions that I receive from them. If you learn to treat food differently and do so in a pleasant way, you will eat less sugar and you will completely lose the cravings for sugar and ‘fast’ carbohydrates.’

It is not the first time that Naessens has gone home with a prize. In 2013, she already won a Gourmet Award and in 2014, at the Beijing Cookbook Fair, she ‘stole’ a prize from Michelin-star chef Alain Ducasse. ‘Of course, a prize has a positive influence’, she says. ‘It is a ticket to an international market and new contacts. It is thanks to a prize like this that my products are now sold in China. Indeed, it’s starting from scratch, because who has heard of Pascale Naessens abroad? No one, surely?’ (she laughs)

 

* You can also read the Dutch article in the PDF file below.

‘Six years ago, I could never have imagined it. I didn’t think for a minute that a book about my vision of healthy nutrition would be successful.'