Cookbooks offer a special challenge for information design, as their pages must suceed at both seduction and instruction, luring and reassuring their readers. Bookstore shelves may bend from the weight of gorgeous, glossy tomes, yet home cooks are still increasingly kitchen-phobic. How do writers, artists and designers work together to produce pretty pages with error-proof recipes? Such were the issues we tried to tackle last night. With the sun-lit Bay Bridge as a backdrop, an excellent panel of publishing professionals managed to squeeze a lot into 75 minutes of conversation. Though it was hardly my best stab at moderating (note to self: quoting a dictionary is NOT a lively way to begin a discussion), Nancy Austin of Ten Speed Press, artist and illustrator Patricia Curtan, ground-breaking food photographer Christopher Hirscheimer, and food writer Peggy Knickerbocker generously shared their stories and insights.Peggy and Christopher describing how they collaborated closely from market to kitchen to studio in their recent book, The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Cookbook. Patricia, on the other hand, enjoys a rare and enviable autonomy in her contributions to the Chez Panisse brand. She showed several of her prints along with a highly educational display of her linoleum blocks. Nancy, who represents a small house known for its hands-on approach to book publishing, has the ability to allow authors an unusual amount of say in the look and feel of their books. Still, she was careful to temper our discussion with reminders about the reality of the bottom line.The formulaic language of modern recipes, what happens at a typical photo shoot, how printing 4-color books in Asia has changed the design of books, what to expect in the cookbook photography of 2008, and why a book dedicated to hot chocolate recipes was a surprise hit–numerous topics came up that we didn’t have time to explore in more detail.We just may need to reconvene for Part 2: The Business of Cookbooks.In the meantime, a bit of reading for the curious…- The dumbing down of recipes– Shooting food photographs for Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen– Nigel Slater’s books–the “messy” future of food photography?