What’s a hybrid cookbook and what does translating one involve?
These books lie somewhere in-between technical texts and literature, and are a mixed-type of informative and expressive text. Unlike more conventional […] [cookbooks], the more personal parts of the text require different handling –the expectation being to preserve the original style and structure as a trademark of the author. (Paradowski, 2017, p. 6)
A hybrid or mixed-genre cookbook is not just a collection of recipes. The informative and expressive parts that Paradowski mentions can be anything from chapters with information on the health properties of the main ingredients used to recipe introductions discussing the recipe origin to historical anecdotes to travel writing to storytelling.
What translating a modern hybrid cookbook meant for me
- Translating a technical text
- Getting up to speed with my native language trends
- Translating perceptions, for example, of texture and taste
- Translating norms, which means either adapting to the norms for the genre in the receiving culture or being innovative and importing some of the norms or traits of the original culture (always backed up by research and justified arguments)
- Translating a creative text
- Translating marketing discourse
- Translating gendered discourse
- Representing the author and their brand
- Representing a nation (or the nations involved or mentioned in the book)
In summary, hybrid cookbook translation is an exercise in genre, personal, gender, cultural and corporate representation. Let’s break it down.
Translating a technical text
This includes ingredients, kitchen gadgets, kitchen appliances and cooking techniques, but, in a mixed-genre cookbook, you could potentially find technical terms from any field. Personally, I had some trouble describing the hanging spice rack hanging over the author's kitchen island without a picture; even though I researched spice racks on Google images. It's ok if you can talk to the author, but you may not be able to. Then, on a scale of things, this is of lower importance than being able to find a useful description for a dish or a process. I've discussed technical terms before, such as beurre noisette/brown butter. And I've discussed taste, colour and texture.
Not only does food terminology vary from language to language, it also varies between cultures with a shared language. For example, terms such as chip, pie or muffin mean something different in British and American English. Read this article to find out more.
Meat cuts are notoriously difficult to translate: they vary from country to country and even regionally. We're not talking about the same cut having different names, which also happens, but cuts that do not exist in another country or, if they do, they are cut differently. If you specialise in English to Spanish culinary translation, you will soon learn that sirloin is not solomillo, though that's how it is often mistranslated.
Being up to date with language trends
It's not just the technical language one needs to master. Being a specialist culinary translator means being up-to-date with food and language trends. I mentioned in my article about madeleines how language evolves and how perceptions of what's cool or trendy can affect the usage of terms and, consequently, the decisions of editors and publishers. The question is, to what extent does the translator have a say in this?
Translating cultural perceptions
Ingredients and kitchen gadgets can be culture-specific or hard to find and expensive in another country. I wonder how many Spanish homes own a garlic press. You might not have imagined that taste, colour, smell and texture can also be perceived differently based on your individual experience of the world around you, as discussed in my article about membrillo.
Translating cultural norms
The degree of formality in written language varies from culture to culture; I mentioned in a previous post how Italian translators tend to up the register of English culinary texts (see Rossato, 2015). Modern British and American cookbooks tend to use an informal address where the writer talks to their intended audience as they would to friends with the same interests (see Lindqvist, 2014). This is part of marketing and cookbooks having turned into lifestyle guides. This is less common in Spanish cookbooks, but I found that some savvy new bloggers with a background in marketing, turned cookbook authors, had imitated the style. I think they did well; the same as British TV cooking shows have been successfully imported because they are a form of entertainment, why not make cookbooks less dry?
In Spanish, we have so many choices to address the reader: from the formal USTED to the impersonal infinitive; the inclusive but (in my opinion) patronising ‘we’ or the less common ‘tú’ (informal you).
There are cookbook norms even more likely to escape a non-specialist: the order in which ingredients are listed; the information that is given about them in the ingredient list; and the sentence order in the cooking instructions is different in English and Spanish.
Translating a creative text
Styles vary from author to author. For example, Nigel Slater has a notoriously poetic and evocative style. Peltre, the author I used for my dissertation on cookbooks, leaves inserts in French to transport the reader to her childhood. It makes it more vivid and, more importantly, presents her as a bicultural individual, a part of her that would be erased if all these inserts were eliminated.
Storytelling can include humour and colloquial language, all of it requiring a creative translator. That would be the case to translate Jamie Oliver’s shows or, if you want a more extreme example, Jack Monroe's unfuckapable pizza dough or her crappuchino (Cooking on a Bootstrap). If Oliver’s tone got toned down in translation, we can only imagine what would happen to Monroe's.
Translating marketing discourse
Translating a cookbook means translating various marketing elements crucial to its sales, such as:
- The title. In my case this was a brand name unknown in Spain so I had to decide what to do with it. A title often implies summarizing the spirit of the book, a tall responsibility.
- The chapter titles. In my case they followed from the title and carried through the philosophy of the book.
- The blurb. There wasn't one in this case.
- Recipe names. Their creativity and style varies from cookbook to cookbook.
- Gendered discourse. Read on.
Translating gendered discourse
Cookbooks have traditionally been addressed to women and, therefore, different messages have been sold to them throughout history.
My author seemed to have inspired herself in cookbooks written by female American celebrities (see Matwick, 2017 to learn about these). Like them, she combines traditional female discourse (caring, cooking and serving others) with discourses of achievability, self-fulfilment and feminity.
Representing the author and her brand
Imagine for a minute that your author decides not to mention on the cover that all the recipes in her book are gluten free. In this case, neither the title or the subtitle of either the English or French versions mention it. Her following book does, in a tiny note.
But Peltre's initial philosophy was: THIS IS FOOD TO BE ENJOYED BY EVERYONE. In my pre-translation research, I found arguments on both sides on Amazon reviews: some readers would have liked to know; others appreciated being able to feel normal rather than on a diet; most did not mention it at all. I can see both sides, and I commend the brave author’s move. But it would be the publisher's decision, I guess.
Representing a nation
Representing a nation is a tall order, yet, you may need to do it for the author's sake. Translators small changes could be conscious attempts to redress, for example, power imbalances between dominant and peripheral cultures and discourses. Such is Rossato's (2015) argument, who discusses how omissions, additions and liberal translations were performed by the Italian translators of Jamie’s Great Italian Escape series in an attempt to redress scattered imperialistic discourse, and play to their own audience. Everyone has an audience to please.
My example is less dramatic. There is a recipe for frittata in La Tartine Gourmande where the author describes how she loves Spanish omelette but prefers the looks of frittata. Her wording is very careful, but I can imagine myself tiptoeing around that sentence.
Daniel, Ch., & Roudot, A.C. (2007). La terminologie de la texture des aliments. Meta, 52(2), 342-351. http://dx.doi.org/10.7202/016075ar
Leer, J. (2016). What's cooking, man? Masculinity in European cooking shows after The Naked Chef. Feminist Review, 114(1), 72-90. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41305-016-0012-0
Lindqvist, Y. (2014). Grammatical Metaphors in translation: Cookery books as a case in point. In D. R. Miller & E. Monti (Eds.), Tradurre Figure / Translating figurative language (pp. 167-180). Bologna: CeSLiC. Retrieved from http://www.lilec.it/ceslic/i-quaderni-del-ceslic/
Matwick, K. (2017). Language and gender in female celebrity chef cookbooks: Cooking to show care for the family and for the self. Critical Discourse Studies, 14(5), 532-547. https://doi.org/10.1080/17405904.2017.1309326
Rossato, L. (2015). Le grand culinary tour: adaptation and retranslation of a gastronomic journey across languages and food cultures. The Translator, 21(3), 271-295. https://doi.org/10.1080/13556509.2015.1103096
Learn more about food translation
- How I specialised in cookbook translation
- How I specialised in culinary translation
- The language of cookbooks
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