Potatoes, and then some: Delia takes on Russian cuisine

In a deal between BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC, and Cookbooks, a Russian business founded by a group of food and drink fans, Delia Smith is being introduced to the land of bliny and vodka. A translated version of Delia's Vegetarian Collection has hit Russian bookstores in the past few days with tentative plans for The Delia Collection - Chicken to follow if she proves as big a success in the former Soviet Union as she has been in the UK.

And it is understood there are tentative discussions about Jamie Oliver being the next chef in the Russian market if the country's slowly emerging middle-class embraces sun-dried tomatoes and rocket with the gusto of the British. Smith welcomed the news yesterday, saying: "I'm very excited and particularly pleased because my niece has a degree in Russian."

Tom Rawlins, managing director of Cookbooks, said the key factor for the initiative now was the growing availability of foodstuffs in the increasing number of supermarkets.

"You can get pretty much all the ingredients that are in the cookbooks now but it is the first time that has happened," he said. "If somebody gave you a recipe from Europe before, you couldn't get half the ingredients and you would be annoyed. But the markets have opened up.

"Russian people are travelling a lot more and getting a taste of all the cuisines that are around. The demand to try these foods at home are making supermarkets stock more interesting things. You can get fresh mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes and olive oil and spices." Mr Rawlins thinks Delia will work in Russia because of her straightforward approach, although her programmes are available only on BBC Prime, the BBC's international entertainment channel. "Russians are very academic and they follow things," he said. "They take a text book and can figure out what is going on. I think they will definitely take to Delia. And the thing about British cookery writers is that you get a taste of pretty much everything. French cookery writers very rarely go across the border, but the British are not scared to use different varieties of cookery from all over the world."

The phenomenon of the celebrity chef is a novel one in Russia, whose only TV chefs at present are a pop musician and the wife of a film director, neither of whom are cooks. Delia, by contrast, started her career writing recipes for the Daily Mirror's new magazine in 1969, wrote her first book in 1971 and made her debut on television two years later, becoming a national institution. Delia Smith's Cookery Course, first shown and published in three parts between 1978 and 1980, has sold more than two million copies in its omnibus edition.

For BBC Worldwide, the venture is an attempt to capitalise on the cultural shift that is opening up Russia as a market. Delia's Vegetarian Cookbook is its first Russian co-edition.

Ben Donald, its head of books rights for Europe, said there was already a trend towards coffee table books but this was the first move towards the whole lifestyle and cooking books area.

One traditional bookstore in Moscow was so enamoured of the high-gloss appearance of Delia's debut that it put it on a top shelf. When asked why, the owner said it was so lovely she did not want it to get damaged.

Mr Donald said that it was the first step of plans to build a profile for Delia in this fast-growing market. "With more Russian titles being planned, this marks an important step for BBC Books in Russia, both in cookery and other genres," he added.

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