Some terrific reading on food and writing (and writing on writing) that came across our desk this week:
The NEXT BIG WINNER in the online recipe universe will more than likely go to whoever creates the technology that provides users the sorely needed individually-tailored search mechanisms along with a paradigm that allows content creators — that would be us — to participate in the profits gleaned when their recipes or food content are clicked on. Two companies are poised to win large. One is a personal favorite, Yummly.com, a tech-driven recipe database that began, like most aggregators, by scraping web content and has, in its brief life, already moved solidly to create rewarding partnerships with content providers.
We met Dave Feller, the founder of Yummly.com, last summer and have had a few conversations about his vision and approach. Prior to starting the semantic recipe search, Dave ran marketing and strategy at Half.com, managed a large portion of the business for eBay and directed marketing and business operations for Stumbleupon.com. But the guy’s a cook and his tech and marketing savvy couldn’t stay out of the kitchen forever. Dave has deployed a fascinating social media strategy to create communities within Yummly and we are collaborating on a killer session for Cook ‘n Scribble’s upcoming Food Blog U together.
ZipList, on the other hand, is moving toward a model that both aggregates and protects content creators and seems to be finding the “sweet spot” between home cooks who want easy access to online recipes and the proprietary rights of on-line recipe destinations that range from large partners such as MarthaStewart.com, The Joy of Baking and The Daily Meal, and blogs such as Simply Recipes, Recipe Girl and Our Best Bites.
Unlike other recipe aggregators, ZipList does the coding to help improve the search engine optimization of recipes for bloggers. Bloggers enter their recipes into the ZipList plugin, and it formats the recipe for the blog in addition to making the recipes searchable on the ZipList site. ZipList provides metadata such as the ingredients list and prep and cooking times and directs users to click over to the original recipe provider to see the full recipe and instruction. This arrangement, at least, allows the content creators to garner “eyeballs” — and god willing, may be the first step in creating a royalty-per-recipe-click model.
Quality & The Future Cookbook
Last year it was culinary Apps, this year the talk is E-cookbooks — they are cheaper to produce and still the Wild West in the sense of allowing a cook with a dream to design, publish and distribute their work. E-publishing platforms such as Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publisher and Apple’s iBook Author may become “the great publishing equalizers” according to Mashable’s post on self-publishing trends. However, the speed and lack of editorial oversight in these self publishing platforms is already bringing the quality of their offerings into question. In the Do-It-Yourself publishing world, writes Lance Ulanoff, the editor-in-chief of mashable.com, only the truly talented will survive.
“That’s not to say that only those with editors or perfect writing will thrive. I think a hot topic or an especially good yarn can still captivate and overcome flaws. Heck, look at the Twilight series. The writing is — well — let’s just say it’s not my cup of tea, but the tale itself is so engaging that the series has sold millions and millions of copies. I think anything published to Amazon has that same potential.”
Playing the New York State Lottery also has potential. The odds in the cookbook lottery do seem to favor those who produce high quality work. In an essay that looks at the success of Canal House that appeared on the Huffington Post in 2009, Elissa Altman of PoormansFeast.com suggests that vision, quality and impeccable execution are the ingredients for creating a well-loved and respected cookbook brand. We suspect these qualities transcend “platform,” and create books — pretty ones for the coffee table, electronic ones for your e-reader, or stylin’ HTML5 pages that can be pulled down from The CLOUD.
Pretty Pictures & Tasty Words
This week, Pete Dulin, a writer and photographer based in Kansas City posted a lovely essay by Sofia Perez, a contributor to Saveur and soon-to-be novelist on just that topic. Dulin promises more installments — and we look forward to an ever-expanding definition of the field we till.
In his talk at last year’s Key West Literary Seminar, Adam Gopnick, a writer for The New Yorker and author of The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food, gave a fabulous keynote address that explored the role of food in literature. IN a willy-nilly race through western philosophy, he creates a fabulous context for the literary potential of food writing by exploring the difference between “mouth taste” and “moral taste.”
Gopnick is also sitting down with Molly O’Neill later this month for a Cook ‘n Scribble conversation about personal essay.
This week, two examples of glorious food writing sent our souls into serious battle between jealousy and joy.
Molly Wizenberg, author of A Homemade Life: Recipes from my Kitchen Table takes us on a lyrical cook’s tour of writer’s resistance — and deep into the heart of Rye Crumble Bars, a recipe adapted from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain. No wonder food and words are such soulmates: baking is so much more rewarding than sharpening pencils…
Mei Chin, whose book Eat, Drink, Mother, Daughter won a 2005 James Beard Award, begins an essay on cilantro by stating “Chinese parents are liars..” and leads us through her early, gut-wrenching hatred of the herb, to her current obsession with it in a finely layered essay that allows us to taste both the revulsion and the love. Masterfully written with a clear eye toward the stakes beneath the taste, Chin uses the journey between as a parable for growing up and making peace with moral ambiguity.
From Cook ‘n Scribblers
Ame Gilbert has been teaching the first food class to be offered as a studio art class at Parsons School of Design this semester and along with her students has found the experiential learning to be profound. Their most recent work invovles relating the popular hands-on home-made artisianal food trend to an avant-garde art aesthetic under the tutelage of the artist and pastry chef, Victoria Yee Howe — think pictorial sushi. Ame is also the curator of the 2012 Umami Food and Art festival. Featuring art, food, music and perfromance, the festival kicks off April 12 with The Recipe Project, featuring recipes by some of New York’s top chefs scored by Indie rock band One Ring Zero. Lead by composer Michael Hearst, the band experimented with a variety of musical styles according to each chef’s vision. Mario Batali, Tom Collicio, and David Chang are among the lyrics contributors.
Former teaching assistant Marisa Smith launched SweetrootsNYC in Manhattan today. She designs weekly menus for food-ophiles with not time to Green Market, scours the city for the high quality food she feeds herself and delivers a week’s worth of meal-fixin’s along with recipes, tips and support from her web site. Marisa, a recent graduate of the Gallatin program at NYU, dedicated her first week to thinking seafood and pulled together a fine package of information on selecting and storing the fragile bounty of local waters. The most interesting moment in her week of thinking seafood was this lovely post about a stolen afternoon at the movies.
It made me want walk — with the calm that only a woman whose deadlines are met and whose dinner is already sourced and planned can muster — to watch the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I loved how this post reveled the shopper and cook, how it reminds that food, however fabulous, is part of a well-balanced life of the mind, heart and senses, how subtly it works to forge a bond with potential customers.
ON THE TABLE
Winnie Abramson’s spiced up riff on dried apricot jam is perfectly timed for those chicken-soup and toast days of early spring colds.
And Susan Pridmore’s recipe for kale-and-cauliflower tart in an inspired cheddar cheese crust made me almost happy that Saturday’s 80 degree sun dipped to something-or-other BELOW last night. Here’s dinner!
Benjamin Franklin’s Drinker’s Dictionary: 220 Old School Ways To Call Someone A Lush (VIDEO by “I Made America” )