Take one major metropolitan city. Add 70 cookbook authors. Stir in 64 restaurants. Let the results run for 10 days, and the result is "The Book and the Cook," Philadelphia's annual culinary extravaganza.
Beginning this Friday, the latest crop of culinary writers and chefs from across the United States will descend on Philadelphia -- to the delight of host restaurateurs like Terry McNally. This is the 18th straight year for the event, the biggest of its kind in the country.
"It's been one of the things that's put us on the map as a culinary city," says McNally, co-owner of London Grill, an upscale American bistro near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "We get the privilege of meeting authors and doing new menus."
Launched in the mid-'80s as a way to reward some of the political supporters of then-mayor W. Wilson Goode, "The Book and the Cook" proved immediately popular and well-timed. Its rise coincided with a growing appreciation of chefs and cookbook authors as celebrities -- a kind of food network before Food Network ever showed up on television.
"I think we helped accelerate that interest," says Judy Faye, the event's executive producer. "The point was to introduce as broad an audience as possible to experience Philadelphia restaurants. Nothing leaves an impression like having a personal experience."
The event works like this: Host restaurants are matched with popular cookbook authors, and together they devise menus drawn from the authors' work. The writers, often chefs themselves, will talk about their food, meet patrons and even help prepare the meals.
Some of the hottest chefs in the country attend. This year, the celebrities include Patricia Wells, Bobby Flay, Rick Bayless and Roy Yamaguchi.
McNally has been paired with Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, authors of Hot Sour Salty Sweet (Workman, 2000, $45), the well-regarded Southeast Asian cookbook. At a $65-a-plate dinner Friday night, diners will be introduced to such fare as Cambodian smoked fish and green mango, market noodles from the Mekong Delta and Thai jungle curry.
Alford and Duguid will be joined that evening by a food scientist who will show guests how flavor is the result of a complex combination of senses.
Cooking demonstrations will be conducted from noon to 2 p.m. next Monday through Friday at two public locations in Philadelphia -- in the Rotunda at the Shops at Liberty Place, 17th and Market streets, and Reading Terminal Market, 12 and Arch streets. Several 90-minute master cooking classes will also be conducted by celebrity chefs to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
For a complete listing of participating authors, restaurants and times as well as more information about classes, locations and other events, call 215-405-6745 or visit the event's Web site at www.thebookandthecook.com.