meeting smitten kitchen

Last Friday, B and I drove to Beverly Hills to meet the author of the long anticipated, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, Deb Perelman. We arrived early and I picked up the copy of the book that I had pre-ordered over the phone. I also brought with me a copy we got on Amazon for about half the price. I kind of suspected this was not going to be a very well run event, when we weren’t given a number, and well, the woman put the post-it note with the personalization names on the wrong title page.

Since we were pretty early (traffic turned out to be light), we ended up going to the Starbucks down the block. I returned about 45 minutes before things were set to begin, and B joined me later, as he was getting some work done. There was a bit of a crowd forming at this point, but I snagged a fairly good spot near where the demo would be. The plan was that Deb would do a demonstration of her cranberry bars, and then the signing would take place after that. In the meantime they passed around samples of her rice pudding and apple cider caramels – both were delicious.

As I stood there watching Deb add butter to the flour, I started to feel a bit off. I thought well, maybe I just feel crowded because I was standing in front of this display table with stacks of glass jars of pumpkin butter and was nervous about accidentally being pushed into it, and causing a scene. I am always worried about having a panic attack, but this seemed like something else. For one thing, I could feel my ankles sweating. I thought to myself, this is really weird. I mean, how do one’s ankles even sweat?! Yes, it was hot outside, and I was in a group of people, and yes, I was wearing a cardigan, but why could my ankles possibly be sweating, even if I did have the two cookbooks in a bag between my feet? This just did not make sense. It couldn’t be a hot flash. I have never had one, but I have never heard anyone who has mention anything about ankles sweating, and certainly that would be worth mentioning, no?

It took me a few more minutes to figure it out. I guess it was when Deb was about done with the bars and was about to put them in the oven that was in front of her, but that we couldn’t really see because of a panel around the prep area. I had noticed the stove, which she didn’t use, but didn’t think that the oven would be under it. I don’t know how the women in front of me weren’t melting. One was even able to carry on a conversation with Deb, asking most of the questions during the presentation.

Before I tell you the craziness that happened next, I should tell you that the store that hosted this event was completely clueless about how popular this book would be, or how many people would show up. This was Deb’s only stop in the greater LA area, and they only ordered 100 copies of the book. If anyone had bothered to read the introduction, they would have noted that The Smitten Kitchen website gets over 5 million hits per month (I’ve heard it quoted as high as 7 million). Also, if they just ventured over to Amazon, they would have seen that it was selling like hotcakes (as I write this it is number 10 in books – not cookbooks – books!), and at half the retail price.

To deal with this issue, they offered people book plates, which Deb would sign and then they could put on the book when it arrived. They even offered to ship them for free, although they were full price. I heard rumors that they may have even run out of book plates. Really.

But back to the signing portion of the event. Imagine, if you will, what might happen when a group of people who are crowded around an oven and surrounded by displays with many breakable things are asked to form a single line around the store. It was pretty bad. At least nothing broke, as far as I saw. The real issue was that the staff seemed overly concerned that the line be one single line snaking around one side of the store. I am still not exactly sure why. Perhaps so people couldn’t cut, but initially what they ended up with was about three sections of line, which they ended up moving backward so that poor Deb wasn’t overcrowded at the signing table where she was standing.

The weirdest part was that we stood there for what felt like at least 20 minutes going no where. Yet, oddly, I saw people leaving with signed books. Still not sure what happened. But when at last we were all in one line, the staff seemed pleased and relieved. They were nice and brought around water for people. I am guessing I wasn’t the only one who felt hot standing so close to a preheated 350F oven. I was just happy we were finally moving in the right direction.

Deb was awesome! She signed each book in her lovely handwriting, and even put her little seal on it. Very classy. She let people take photos and tried to talk while all of this was going on. I am guessing the last person in that line got out of the store around 5:00pm, but I cannot say for sure. We left around 3pm and went and had lunch. I was overwhelmed by all of it.

I have been to many book signings, and I can say that numbers keep thing moving smoothly. The really nice thing about numbers is that people can be called in groups, allowing them to browse your store and perhaps buy something, when not in line. I really didn’t get this store at all. Not for anything, but most people who showed up to this event were home cooks. And maybe they didn’t cook all the time, but with the holidays quickly approaching, I would venture that most would be cooking something before the year was out, and perhaps needed a new pot or pan or even oven mitt. This wasn’t the group I would try and sell the canned cookie or cupcake mixes too, but they might be interested in the fancy pasta. But when you make people stand in line and move them around willy-nilly, you know what people want to do once they get their books signed – leave.  As I said, clueless. Still, I am glad we got to go, even if someone did try to steal our car.

on the night stand :: The Smitten Kitchen’s Cookbook by Deb Perelman

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