Inside the Epic Cookbook Collection and Culinary Legacy of Lisa Ekus
Share and Follow

Cookbooks hold a special place for Lisa Ekus. In the age of viral social media moments and instant foodies, Ekus describes herself as ‘feet-in-the-ground-firm’ about her love for them. As the seasoned cookbook literary agent and founder of The Ekus Group, the first media relations agency to focus on culinary literature, she deeply appreciates the tangible experience of holding a physical book.

With an astonishing 4,239 titles on her shelves, Ekus was recently named the record holder in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest cookbook collection.

While she never set out to build a cookbook library or be a world record holder this designation represents a numerical achievement and reflects her lifelong connection with cookbooks.” As it evolved, we realized how deep my collection is and the reference value and research opportunities. It’s an eclectic and really, really personal library.”

However, her cookbook journey and love of food began long before the inception of The Ekus Group. She grew up cooking and entertaining, and after college, during her tenure at esteemed publishing houses such as Random House and Crown Publishing, Ekus learned to love sharing stories in the world of food and the role that cookbooks play in them.

One of her mentors, Nach Waxman, the esteemed former book editor and proprietor of the renowned Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York City, played a pivotal role in Ekus’ career trajectory when their paths intertwined at Crown Publishing.

Eventually, Ekus moved to western Massachusetts, and started The Ekus Group and Waxman left to eventually open one of the nation’s few bookstores exclusively dedicated to culinary literature; he asked Ekus to orchestrate the opening publicity. “Well, now I had food, I had a bookstore,” says Ekus. “I had this man who had really helped my career and helped me understand the importance of cookbooks and food in what it’s like to work in publishing. That was a real seminal experience for me.”

Embracing The Intimacy of Cookbooks

Today, Ekus’ collection boasts over 7,000 titles, covering a wide range of topics in the food and drink space, with many wrapped in protective archival holders, but they are still used. “I don’t overhandle them, but I don’t have anything like really rare or really expensive; that’s not what I do.”

Ekus fondly recalls her early thrifting and antiquing days, stumbling upon cookbooks that captivated her. She says, ‘I would find these cookbooks, and I would get immersed in them, and it’s like, ‘I gotta take that home!” This passion has grown over the years, and now her extensive collection is a testament to her dedication to the culinary world.

“I want real paper, and I want to see people’s penciled notes, how good it was, or add half a cup of soy sauce or whatever it is,” remarks Ekus. Writing in cookbooks is not only acceptable but essential for her, as she believes cooking is an experience and a proactive process. Through her collection, Ekus has nurtured personal connections with cookbooks, recognizing their significance beyond just recipes. She believes cookbooks are ‘stories’ and ‘people’s experiences.’

“I could talk to you about almost every book on the shelf and why it lives there.” Each book holds a piece of history and personal anecdotes, like little treasures waiting to be discovered. Ekus remarks, ‘One of the things I do in the collection is I have lots of little pieces of a press release, or it’s inscribed to me, or there are notes of something interesting within many of the books. It’s like a little love mystery when you go in and say, ‘Oh, did you know this is in here?”

The Road to a Record-Breaking Cookbook Collection

Submitting to the Guinness World Records started in 2019 and took several years due to COVID-19-related delays. During that time, Ekus estimates she added 1,500 more books to her collection.

However, according to the record keep organization’s definition, not all books qualify as cookbooks. So books without an ISBN were immediately disqualified. The International Standard Book Number is the unique barcode identifier allowing publishers to sell in bookstores or in libraries.

In addition, books that were not exclusively recipes or a mix of narratives and needed a significant number of recipes were not included in the tally. This caveat meant no food writing.

“So no MFK Fisher, Roy Andrea de Groot, or Johnny Apple.” According to the information provided by Guinness, books primarily contained recipes. “Some of these had no recipes, and some have a handful, some have more than a handful,” exclaimed Ekus. “That was an atrocity!”

In addition to self-published titles, food history, and narrative, community cookbooks had to be stricken from the count. This meant about 400 titles from spiral-bound church and synagogue books and fundraiser recipe books were also pulled. “Those [books] are cataloging and chronicling the way people were cooking. So they’re almost more relevant in so many ways of the place, it’s covering, the time and the people.”

On her property in western Massachusetts, Ekus has been renovating her 250-year-old farmhouse using an architect only to outline the structural support of the library. “It’s my favorite room in the house, very closely followed by the kitchen.”

Over her 40-year career, Ekus has watched food and cookbooks change. There were no food photographers or stylists that are an important part of what brings cookbooks to life today. “When there was color, there were blown-in 8 or 16-color insert—that was a really big deal!”

Cookbooks as Gateways to Cultural Understanding

Ekus also recognizes the broader significance of cookbooks in understanding different cultures and societal changes.

“Part of what I’ve experienced over the last four plus decades is the difference of what’s available in foodstuffs and equipment, and in interest and in what we can, says Ekus. “We can find the ingredients for an authentic Taiwanese noodle dish, you know—forget that happening way back in the 80s!”

The library of cookbooks is not just a collection of books but also a representation of their work and her observations in the industry. Ekus recalls looking at ephemera from a project for General Mills
, noting that food advertising and food media at a point in time.

“It’s changed dramatically—as it should,” said Ekus. “However, these are moments in time in paper, whether it’s in a book or a pamphlet, that that tell us what was happening, why was it happening and how are people responding, and then that’s what they were putting out on their tables, and we were driven so much by advertising revenue.”

This revelation reflects the expanding role of cookbooks as not merely collections of recipes but as storytelling vessels and windows into diverse culinary experiences. The cookbook industry has grown in recent years, with cookbook sales in the US increasing by 8% between 2010 and 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated this growth.

Today, Ekus’s observations of how cookbooks help us understand the world around us, including in world politics and climate change. She observed that as global warfare increased tremendously, so did readers’ recognition and interest in food in the Middle East, particularly the food of Syria, Afghanistan, and Croatia.

“Now, cookbooks are so much more than a recipe, says Ekus. “They are stories, and they are people’s experiences. And then they have people around a table and sharing. It might be my mother’s or grandmother’s food, but that will get them talking about it.”

Passing the Torch: Sally Ekus Carries Forward the Culinary Legacy

Recognizing the evolving landscape, Ekus’s daughter, Sally Ekus, has embraced the family legacy and joined the agency. Growing up surrounded by books and immersed in food, Sally developed a deep appreciation for the culinary arts from an early age.

As our conversation continues, Sally turns to her mother, Lisa, fondly recalls one of her earliest memories. “I remember when you were building the shelves that now round out the kitchen, where we keep a copy of all our agented books,” Sally says, smiling. “It’s an extension of the library as a physical room. I have a memory of laying that shelf. I must have been about four or five.”

The cookbook genre is unique because it holds and captures what food does to us emotionally, intellectually, and personally, in book form, says Ekus. “The library is just a collection of that and it’s really special.” This multi-generational connection to the business brings a unique perspective as she steps into her mother’s footsteps, ready to continue the agency’s focus on culinary literature and build upon the library’s growth.

Sally’s connection to the culinary world was nurtured from a young age. “I grew up in this, around this table, in the shelves, and on the shelves!” she reflects with nostalgia. Family videos capture imaginative cooking shows staged on the media training section, and even her sister became a participant, the subject of interviews about oatmeal and other culinary adventures.

These experiences have shaped her understanding of the importance of food as a conduit for connection and storytelling—a legacy that she proudly carries forward into her role at The Ekus Group. “The library truly represents what we do as agents and what the industry is because it’s all about connection and what speaks to people personally.”

With her mother’s retirement, Sally at the helm, preserving and expanding upon Ekus’s impactful contributions to the culinary world.

In the midst of her remarkable journey through the world of cookbooks, Lisa Ekus remains grounded in her love for entertaining and the joy of sharing meals with others. She reflects on her lifelong passion for food and expresses, “I still entertain all the time. I have tons of friends and family over, and I have my mom’s recipes. I have my favorite recipes, that I know which books to go to. So not much has changed.” With a semi-professional kitchen, Lisa’s home (also the agency’s HQ) is always buzzing with culinary activity as multiple hands collaborate to create meals that unite people.

For her, the essence of dining extends beyond the dishes on the table; it lies in the company surrounding it. Lisa poignantly says, “It’s about who’s at my table.” This sentiment encapsulates the enduring power of food to forge connections and create cherished memories.

Share and Follow
You May Also Like

Cash Supports: Shifting the Focus from the Child Tax Credit

The latest report from the Census Bureau shows that the child poverty…

Insights from Harvard Study Reveal Effective Strategies for Cultivating Happiness through Investments

“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and I prefer rich,” my…

Beyoncé’s Announcement of Renaissance Tour Film Boosts AMC Shares in Premarket Trading

Topline Shares of AMC Entertainment jumped on Monday after pop superstar Beyoncé…

Could ESG Investing Leaders Experience a Geographical Shift?

The great wealth transition brings about change not just in how things…

Decoding the Real Scenario of Argentina’s Presidential Election

Conan “the Barbarian”, a montage using Milei’s mastiff. Joaquin Temes After several…

3 Dividend Strategies to Implement for the Remainder of 2023

Focused young Caucasian man look at laptop screen calculate expenses expenditures pay…

Can ResMed Stock Return to its Previous High of $300 Despite Inflation Shock?

UKRAINE – 2022/01/02: In this photo illustration a ResMed Inc. logo seen…

Successful Offseason for Boston Celtics Culminates in Acquisition of Jrue Holiday

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 25: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics…