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WWD Scoop issue 09/29/2008

The story behind Australia’s biggest-selling book of 2007 mostly hinges on the simplest of recipes: two friends and four ingredients.

Six publishers rejected Rachael Bermingham and Kim McCosker’s concept of a pictureless cookbook of 340 recipes involving four ingredients or less. Neither the book idea nor its authors—two no-name mums from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast—were deemed to have much shelf appeal. So they published it themselves—with an initial run of 2,000 copies.

This story first appeared in the September 29, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Ten weeks after its launch in March 2007, 4ingredients had become the fastest-selling cookbook in Australia and New Zealand. At press time, the book had sold 800,000 copies between the two countries, outselling Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver, with 120,000 copies of 4ingredients 2 on pre-order. And in September, a six-part TV series of the book launched in Australia.

“We’re stunned—we’re so over the moon,” says Bermingham. “Two mummies from the Sunshine Coast who aren’t cooks, not chefs, that just had a desire to cook up really quick, easy and delicious food for their families.”

Now inundated with offers from international publishers— with a U.K. edition next on the agenda—the bubbly, blonde, straight-talking duo has been described Down Under as the “Kath & Kim of the culinary world.”

The latter is an allusion to the title characters of top-rating Australian sitcom satire Kath & Kim, which charts the adventures of a suburban housewife and her high-maintenance daughter (a U.S. version will bow October 9 on NBC starring Molly Shannon and Selma Blair, with costumes by Patricia Field).

A hairdresser-turned–shark feeder at Queensland’s UnderWater World, Bermingham transformed herself into a self-taught marketing and motivational consultant and speaker. In February 2006, she published her first book, Read My Lips.

Bermingham first canvassed the cookbook idea with longtime pal McCosker at a children’s party in 2006. They gathered the recipes at playgroups, barbecues and Bermingham’s seminars, with McCosker remortgaging her house to pay for the first print run. Discount department store Big W ordered 2,500 copies straight off the bat.

The simple, cheap, no-frills recipes include ginger ale–marinated corned beef, fruit yogurt–coated chicken rolled in Parmesan-and-cornflake “breadcrumbs” and a date loaf made from pitted dates, self-rising flour and instant coffee.

“It gives everybody what we all crave: more time to spend with the people that we love, doing the things that we love and more money in our pocket,” notes Bermingham.

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