Pili Rodríguez Deus/ February 21, 2020/ cookbook, hybrid cookbook, xl8, localisation, marketing translation

Reading Time: 8 minutes

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)


You probably had a good idea if you have been reading me, but Paradowski's definition nicely summarizes it. A hybrid or mixed-genre cookbook is not just a collection of recipes. The informative and expressive parts that he mentions can be anything from chapters with information on the health properties of the main ingredients used, to recipe introductions discussing the recipe origin, historical anecdotes and travel writing or 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 stove or island (whichever it was) without a picture; even though I looked through Google images. It's ok if you can talk to the author, but you may not be able to. Then, again, on a scale of things, this is probably of lower importance than being able to find a useful description for a dish or a process. I have discussed technical terms before, see beurre noisette/brown butter. And I have 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 if you wish to find out more.

Meat cuts are notoriously difficult to translate as they vary from country to country and even regionally (and not many are prepared to spend hours studying meat charts and finding good information to create proper glossaries). We're not talking about the same cut having different names, which happens, but cuts that do not exist in another country or are cut differently. If you specialise in English to Spanish culinary translation, you will learn that sirloin is indeed not solomillo, though that is how many translate it.

Menu translation, and I'm going a little off track, is often done wrong. Would you know how to translate all these British beef cuts into your language? Don't even think of using a bilingual dictionary, even translator forums are insufficient. I checked Wordreference.com and Proz.com and none had the correct answer (in Spanish from Spain anyway). A degree in translation is insufficient: you need a translator specialised in culinary translation who has relevant knowledge and, when in doubt, knows where to find it, and Proz and Wordreference are often the wrong place. You would not ask a liver consultant to check your heart, so get a specialised translator with references.

If you want to read a great article on menu translation (in English), read Emily Monaco's. Your idea of what translating a menu entails will change dramatically. Having translated some recently, my opinion is that they need to be charged at transcreation or copywriting rates. In fact, I would be suspicious if someone charges you per word, it means they aren't putting in the work. And, to deliver a fair service, that is, a translated menu that sells and, having done that, does not deceive the customer by presenting something completely different to what they expected, you need skill and time.

Being up to date with language trends

But, it's not just about technical language. Being a specialist culinary translator means being up to date with food and language trends in your field. I mentioned in my article about madeleines how language evolves and how perceptions of what is ‘cool or trendy’ can affect the usage of terms and, probably, the decisions of many editors and publishers. I guess the questions is, to what extent does the translator have a say?

Translating cultural perceptions 

Ingredients and kitchen gadgets can be culture-specific or, at best, hard to find in another culture. I wonder how many Spanish homes own a garlic press. However, 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. And Emily Monaco (referenced above) talks about texture too, though my opinion is that texture description is useful, maybe not on a menu, but definitely in a cookbook and particularly if you are introducing an ingredient which is new to the reader (well, unless you want to hide how awful it is!).

Translating cultural norms

The formality of written language varies from culture to culture and I mentioned in a previous post how Italian translators tend to up the register of English texts (see Rossato, 2015). Modern British and American cookbooks tend to use an informal address whereby the writer constructs a persona of their intended audience and talks to them as if they were friends with the same interests (see Lindqvist, 2014). Of course, this is part of marketing and the cookbook having turned into a lifestyle guide. 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. And I think they did well. The same as British TV cooking shows have been imported because they are a form of entertainment, and have been successful, why not make cookbooks more appealing? Although each to their own.

But we have so many choices to address the reader in Spanish. From the formal USTED to the safe but impersonal infinitive; the inclusive but patronising ‘we’ (a personal pet hate of mine) or the less common ‘tú’ or informal you. I was reading a translated cookbook the other day whose voice sounded like a monk compared to the author. There were two reasons: quite literal translation and the use of the impersonal infinitive. Overall it is was a good translation, but the voice was wrong, in my opinion.

There are norms even more likely to escape a non-specialist. The order in which ingredients are presented; the information that is given about them in the shopping list; and the sentence order in the cooking instructions vary considerably from English to Spanish. A good culinary translator needs to make informed and justified decisions about these. I am not suggesting that some norms cannot be imported. In fact, in my dissertation I argued that some would be welcome by Spanish readers, but you need to be able to explain why and consider if it is possible.

Translating a creative text

Creativity varies from author to author. For example, having read a bit of Nigel Slater, I can say that he has a very poetic evocative style. Coming back to the author of my book, I love her storytelling and how she leaves inserts in French (with translations in brackets), because it transports the reader to the author's childhood and other anecdotes, particularly if you speak French. 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. Her voice is really French and, for me, that was a key argument in terms of domestication / foreignization and how to best represent an author's voice.

But it does not have to be literary language. Storytelling can include humour (and we know how difficult to translate this is). It can also include colloquial language that requires 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 crappuchino (Cooking on a Bootstrap). If Oliver’s tone got lost in translation, Monroe would not stand a chance!

Translating marketing discourse

Translating a cookbook means translating various aspects of marketing crucial to its sales, e.g.:

  • 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 high responsibility.
  • The chapter titles. In my case they followed from the title and related to the philosophy of the book.
  • The blurb. There wasn't one in this case.
  • The recipe names, whose creativity and style varies from book to book.
  • Gendered discourse, which I will discuss next.

Translating gendered discourse

Cookbooks have traditionally been addressed to women and, accordingly, different messages have been sold to them throughout history.  I’d venture and say that cooking shows are more unisex, but then most of their presenters are male, which will impact on the messages and language used.

My author seemed to have inspired herself in cookbooks written by female American celebrities (Matwick, 2017, has written about them). Like them, she combines traditional female discourse (caring, cooking and serving others) with discourses of achievability, self-fulfilment and feminity. So, when I was confronted with “I married my loving, handsome husband, Philip, with whom I've had Lulu, our adorable baby daughter. It’s been a fulfilling life so far”, my initial translation was “and then we had Lulu”, which sounded more natural to me in Spanish. But the whole paragraph around this extract highlighted the author’s life achievements and, in line with those messages of self-fulfilment, I decided to leave the ‘I’. Yet, in her self-translation into French, which did not exist then, Peltre wrote ‘nous avons eu une adorable petite fille’ (we had...), which makes me wonder whether it was her editor who changed it or whether that's just Peltre's use of English. At the end of the day, the translator is no more than an interpreter —a very close reader, but an interpreter.

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 her initial philosophy was: THIS IS FOOD TO BE ENJOYED BY EVERYONE. In my pre-translation research, I read some arguments on both sides on Amazon reviews: some would have liked to know; others appreciated being able to feel normal and not on a diet; most did not mention it. I can see both sides of the argument, yet, I commend the author’s move. For my dissertation, not having a publisher or an author to discuss it with, I did use the word celiac, although I made sure to make it sound exciting to all readers. Because I’d sell you Marmite if I had to. And because I think it is important for readers to know; although, if you ask me, who buys a book not knowing what's inside, not doing any research?

Representing a nation

You never know what you'll find in cultural translation, but representing a nation could be a tall order. Yet, you may need to do it for the sake of the very author you represent. 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 and cookbook in order to redress the scattered imperialistic discourse and play to their own audience. Everyone has an audience to please.

Panic not, my example is less dramatic. There is a recipe for frittata in my book where the author describes how she loves Spanish omelette but favours the looks of frittata. I don't blame her and her wording is very careful, but I can imagine myself tiptoeing around that sentence. At the end of the day, if you are selling the book to a Spanish audience, you’d better be careful!

And that's all for today, I hope you found it interesting and, as always, if you want to comment on any of the issues, do get in touch or follow the discussion on Twitter. Do please share the article if you know someone who would enjoy reading it or if you know any publishers that might be interested! 


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


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