Bobby Flay on cookbook flap: 'Ghostwriter' is the wrong term

March 22, 2012 at 6:15 PM ET

Bobby Flay is weighing in on the cookbook controversy that just refuses to simmer down.

The restaurateur and TV star defended Rachael Ray, among the celebrity chefs targeted by a New York Times story, “I Was a Cookbook Ghostwriter,” which alleged that many cookbook authors use ghostwriters.

“I know for a fact that Rachael Ray writes her own recipes,” he told Ann Curry on Friday. “I’ve seen her do it in between her shows, in the segments, in the corner, writing her recipes away.”

Flay has written 11 cookbooks of his own – and collaborated on two of them with Julia Moskin, the author of the article in question. He doesn’t fault Moskin for stirring the pot, saying he didn’t believe she “started this article in, sort of, the ‘gotcha’ form.”

“She wasn’t looking to unveil the chefs’ cookbooks,” Flay said. “I think she was trying to write a story about her prior career, before she started writing [for] the New York Times, and lots of names got thrown in there and some people got their feelings hurt.”

Ray and celebrity-turned-chef Gwyneth Paltrow have been the most vocal of the ego-wounded, and the two came together to defend themselves in an episode of “The Rachael Ray Show” that aired Friday.

"Normally I don't respond to gossip or anything, but you know this is my professional life and I'm writing more cookbooks," Paltrow tells Ray via Skype. "And I feel like it's important for the people who have responded so positively and interacted with me about my book, that they know that this is my book and I wrote my book and it's all mine."

The article, which came out last week, created a firestorm across the food world and Twitterverse, as Ray and Paltrow immediately refuted the claims and asked for a correction to be printed. Moskin then wrote a follow-up article asserting that her facts were accurate, and that she was not accusing any of these chefs of “ghost-cooking” (the more egregious offense of taking credit for someone else’s recipes). The Times has said that no correction is necessary.

But the piece left many questioning whether these cookbooks were credible and truly representative of the celebrity chefs who claim to have written them. Flay and others readily admit that producing cookbooks is not a one-man show, and many feature their writers’ names on the cover. So the problem seems to be the stigma carried by the word “ghostwriter.”

“I think ‘ghostwriter’ is sort of the issue in terms of the terminology. We have ‘collaborators’ – they help us produce the books,” he said. “A cookbook is a huge production, and it’s not like somebody who’s writing their memoir and they’re a ghostwriter, meaning they’re invisible and they’re writing a story.”

Fellow Food Network star and cookbook author Anne Burrell joined Flay on TODAY, adding, “Most chefs have writers with their book — my writer is credited right on the title of my book … I wrote my recipes, I sent them to her, she helped me clean them up and she helped me write the stories and … put the framework around my recipes.”

Ray, who tweeted her disappointment in the New York Times for refusing to run a correction, makes a similar statement on her show.

"This is how I spend the little time at home I have with my family, I spend in front of these little notebooks, in front of the computer,” she said. “It sort of takes away from all of that to not be able to call that writing — of course that's writing. It doesn't mean you don't value the people who write the glossary or that help organize the pantry or that work on a project, but a writer is still a writer."

Ultimately, Flay and Burrell say, while the language might be tweaked by collaborators and editors, the recipes — with some exceptions — are cooked up by the chefs themselves.

“I want the consumer to make sure they understand that they are getting the chefs’ recipes,” Flay said. “…(Collaborators) get the recipes from the pan to the page.”

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