Including a SXSW-Inspired Cookbook, This Online Platform Uses Tech to Preserve a Community’s Culinary History

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How does technology impact human relationships? That was the question Anna Curran, founder of Cookbook Create set out to answer over two years ago. Not only did the ex-digital strategist and political campaigner rethink how cookbooks are made, but she also started a project that would culminate in a printed publication. The final product, a 101-recipe strong hardback compendium of SXSW Interactive Festival speakers’ favorite recipes, fuses the worlds of online and offline in one tasty edition.

The festival, (which kicks off today in Austin, TX) is an annual showcase of the hottest technologically-minded movers and shakers and seemed like an apt forum in which to explore the concept of relationships. Released last year, SXSW Interactive 2014 Cookbook inspires cooks with tasty and colorful recipes, using one community of enthusiasts to inspire another. It also educates about cutting edge technology in a format that’s accessible to experts and tech “illiterate” alike.

Making modern food technology accessible is as much a part of Anna’s mission as preserving a community’s culinary history. Aside from the SXSW Interactive print project, Cookbook Create focuses on showcasing highly-tailored recipe collections online. Each compilation is “a celebration of a particular community and the creative things they love.”

The idea for Cookbook Create grew out of a family collection dating back to 1969, gifted to Anna’s mother by her aunt. It was a treasure trove of family history, each recipe a small window into the past. By looking at her grandmother’s recipe for iced tea for example, Anna not only learned about particular tastes but perspectives on food and drink at the time. Each annotation and addition reflects social and ideological changes. Her mother’s notes, for example, range from the positively indulgent to more recent recipes capturing attempts to embrace healthy eating.

Today, Cookbook Create provides individuals and communities with a means to preserve recipes for posterity via a simple online form. From the bodybuilder looking to sculpt a collection of protein-rich recipes to the father gifting his daughter a legacy of 250 tasty recipes for her college years, each project is a way of expressing “uniqueness” through their relationship with food. By creating a front end site that’s easy to use, Cookbook bridges the technological divide across generations. Creators input the information they want to store into a simple form then Cookbook Create’s smart algorithms and software do the rest, building digital recipe books and files in front of their very eyes. Cookbook’s users are like restaurant customers; each chooses and orders a collection of dishes while Anna’s team of chefs prepare orders in their digital kitchen. The result is a tasty collection of online recipes users can enjoy without any of the utensils or tech culinary savvy required to produce them.

Just as the simplicity of Cookbook Create’s platform appeals to technophobes and -philes alike, so the colorful and inspiring recipes from SXSW Interactive have already reached a wide audience. The book itself, though a traditional hardback, has gone viral thanks to featured chefs and their fanbase. That’s the plan. Curran quotes Douglas Rushkoff’s message from “Program or be Programmed,” citing the likely deficit in skilled tech workers in coming decades. She wants to engage consumers and foster a deeper understanding of new technology. So what better way to spread the message than by whetting appetites? This is a community built on good taste, both culinary and beyond.

So does this first publication herald a new series of SXSW educational spin-offs? “Unlikely,” says Curran. This project falls outside of Cookbook Create’s main mission. Instead SXSW Interactive 2014 Cookbook serves as an appetizer to get others’ creative juices flowing.

Beyond exploring digital communities, Curran has also managed to revolutionize the print creation process. Though this project entailed 9 months of collection, curation and cooking — that’s a year less than it traditionally takes to produce a cookbook. Cookbook Create employed a new approach to aspects such as photography. Instead of working in expensive studios, the team based themselves in an AirBnB rental in Brooklyn for 3 days, hired a great freelance photographer (Clay Williams), planned out the minutiae of scheduling oven slots for multiple recipes, cooked and, most importantly, ate lots of great food.

Does Curran have a favorite? It doesn’t seem like it. The range of cuisines and culinary skills on offer means there’s a dish for every occasion and inclination. Most striking is the relative simplicity of recipes on offer. These intelligent, well-traveled tech visionaries still love mom’s mac and cheese or a delicious way to impress a partner.

The most heartening aspect of this book is that as far as tastes and food preparation skills are concerned, it’s a level playing-field no matter what your technical dexterity or business-savvy. That’s one answer to the initial question: no matter how prominent technology in someone’s life, at least when it comes to food, relationships are still founded on offline memories. Be it comfort food that evokes one’s childhood or a creative pick-me-up (or pick someone else up) the best dishes both reflect and strengthen community.

With only two thousand books in print, those lucky enough to purchase a copy find themselves at the intersection of two global communities: tech and food. Time will tell whether SXSW aficionados, hungry techies, curious chefs or a different demographic will be most enamored with the publication. Whatever the outcome this first, and potentially last, food loving curation has already impressed contributors and whet the palates of renowned food critics. “When The New York Times calls to ask for the chocolate mousse recipe so they can make it for a dinner party”, says Curran, you know you’re onto something.

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