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Bakespace and Cookbook Cafe out to 'democratize' the cookbook world

Cookbook_cafe_Hey you -- you look like a cookbook author.

Babette Pepaj, the L.A. entrepreneur who founded Bakespace, has created a D.I.Y. cookbook platform that turns everyone -- yes, including you -- into a cookbook author. The platform allows users to create both a searchable and interactive e-book and an iPad app that works across a variety of devices, no charge. The cookbooks are then made available at an online shop at Bakespace, called Cookbook Cafe, or on iTunes.

Pepaj says Cookbook Cafe aims to "democratize" the cookbook publishing landscape which, let's face it, leaves most of the food world on the outside looking in. (Unless you are a celebrity chef, a food blogger with a million followers, or the winner of Fox's "MasterChef," your chances of landing a cookbook deal are slim.)

"But everyone has at least one good recipe in them," says Pepaj. "This is a way to share that recipe with everyone, and get paid for it."

Cookbook Cafe only moved out of testing stage earlier this month, but it is already making a splash. It's a finalist at the International Assn. of Culinary Professionals Awards taking place on Monday in New York. It was nominated in the "Most Intriguing Use of Technology" category.

There is no charge for creating the cookbook, or making it available through iTunes via the Cookbook Cafe's storefront. "The only charge is if you make a sale," Pepaj said. However, Pepaj envisions that many of the cookbooks will be given away by charities looking to raise awareness about their cause, or food bloggers culling together their favorite recipes in a bid to build an online audience.

“We're finding that people have great ideas, but they can't get discovered. To even just get 'found,' to get past your friends and family, is really hard to do," she said. "With Cookbook Cafe, people can not only discover, they can get discovered."

Customers download cookbooks both as a "native app" -- meaning they stand on their own apart from the Cookbook Cafe platform -- and an e-book. Both are interative and searchable. "That in and of itself is worth a lot. Trying building your own app. It can cost thousands."

Pepaj was able to turn that assignment over to her tech team at Bakespace, which boasts one of the largest online recipe collections in the world. (And despite the site's name, "We have 60,000 recipes from baby food to homemade detergent to cupcakes and barbecue sauce," she said.)

Users say that one of their favorite things about Cookbook Cafe is its easy navigation and search capabilities. If you're looking for a coconut shrimp recipe, just type in "coconut" and you'll find it. In other words, no more rifling through indexes while the pan is overheating on the stove.

Food blogger Tess Masters of Los Angeles, known in the online world as the Blender Girl for her healthy vegan and vegetarian recipes made using only a blender, mixer or food processor, said Cookbook Cafe has given her an international reach. It has allowed her to deliver her free 20-recipe cookbook -- Healthy Blender Drinks -- to followers throughout Asia and Australia, where she lived at various stints. Doing the same with an actual cookbook would be cost prohibitive, she said.

"I love being able to self-publish a cookbook, and make it easily accessible to anybody," Masters said. "It was so easy to use. I put mine together in an hour. It's a point-and-click interface." Masters is already thinking about different cookbooks she's planning for the future, such as seasonal recipes and recipes that are perfect for gift giving.

Pepaj got the idea for Cookbook Cafe while doing volunteer work helping nonprofits publish cookbooks for fundraising campaigns. The process was time consuming, and costs could quickly add up even with a self-published project put together at the local Kinkos. Then, those books had to be carted around town to be sold.

"I saw people putting in all this effort to make a little bit of a profit and I thought, 'There's gotta be a better way,'" she said.

With Cookbook Cafe, nonprofits can create an online community at Bakespace, post recipes in a uniform fashion, and then upload them at a click to the app. It can be made available at iTunes within minutes, Pepaj said.

"Don't get me wrong, I love cookbooks, but they need to get a little more modern," Pepaj said. And a look through the current cookbooks at Cookbook Cafe have a refreshing feel to them. There is a welcome element of obsessiveness about many of them, written by an impassioned foodies eager to share his or her discoveries with the world. (Italy or Bust, a free collection of recipes "from north of Rome and particular to the Alpine areas" is just one example.)

"I love the creativity that we're seeing," Pepaj said. "People want to find and share truly unique content. We have one cookbook that is all about cooking with tea. That is a great idea, but is a publisher going to take a chance on a niche like that? There are only so many cookbooks a year that they can publish.

"But online you can have these super niche, truly unique gems that people will love," she said. "It's not about being the biggest, it's about people being able to curate truly unique content."

ALSO:

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L.A. Times Test Kitchen video: Rolling out pastry and cookie dough

--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Image credit: Bakespace

 
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