Few shows, animated or otherwise, have inspired a fanbase as rabid and impassioned as Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time. On air since 2010, the show orbits around the escapades of Finn, a human boy, and his canine bestie Jake as they navigate the mythical Land of Ooo. It’s a show that doubles as entertainment for kids and adults, speaking a language both can understand. The show's mythology is heavily food-based, too: Look no further than the bacon pancakes song, perhaps one of its most famous moments.
Since the show has steadily grown its fan base, it's not entirely surprising that there is now an official Adventure Time cookbook. Published by Insight Editions, chef Jordan Grosser’s Adventure Time: The Official Cookbook came out at the end of last month. It's filled with over fifty recipes inspired directly by the series, and they've got the blessing of the show's creator, Pendleton Ward. Recipes are for the novice and expert alike, ranging from eight-layer lasagna to bundt cake; the book has a wealth of gorgeous spreads, painterly in their composition and detail. But it’s not the world’s first Adventure Time cookbook.
In 2014, long-time Adventure Time fanatic Eric Resnick, along with his friend and editor Jen Selix, self-published Eating Ooo: Recipes and Art Inspired by Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time. It weighs in at just under 100 pages, compared to the official cookbook’s 112. Eating Ooo has about half of the official cookbook’s number of recipes, and it, too, is filled with its fair share of beautiful art, most of it created by fans of the show.
When I first heard of Grosser’s official Adventure Time cookbook, I wanted to track down Resnick to ask a few questions: How does it feel when you’re a bootstrapped self-publisher and an “official” cookbook encroaches upon your turf? Especially when you harnessed your limited resources to create a cookbook on your own? Does it hurt at all? And what does it take to self-publish a cookbook born purely out of your love for a television show?
I spoke to Resnick last week, and he exhibited the same self-aware, idiosyncratic (and totally charming) brand of oddness that comes through in Eating Ooo. Consider the fact that he opens his book with an author’s note wherein he describes an early career of “shilling tomatoes for the government.” It's a casual anecdote that begs for an explanation; he told me that, upon graduating from college, he took a job as the head of marketing and education for the Federal Marketing Order that was in charge of promoting Florida-grown, beefsteak tomatoes. (He described it to me as “quite possibly the most soul-sucking experience of my life.”) This was followed by a lucrative stint serving as “a well-respected dating coach,” which he's been doing since 2005. This remains the primary way he earns a living. But Resnick sees himself, first and foremost, as a geek. He didn’t feel satisfied merely subsisting on date-coaching, so he began an entertainment blog a few years back, and he started writing books, beginning with Eating Ooo.
When he first saw Adventure Time shortly after its premiere, Resnick didn’t even like the show that much. But he stuck with it. As the story began to find its footing, he was taken with what he termed “the depth of emotion” the creators brought to a kid's show, finding the way writers imbued their characters with backstories particularly inspiring for a kids’ show. Adventure Time is, to his mind, “a fun, silly, crazy, fever dream of a show that just happens to also occasionally punch you in the heart in ways that you weren't ready for.”
Resnick had always loved to cook and try new foods, and this informed his desire to write a cookbook based on Adventure Time. Every recipe would either re-create a dish from the show or capture the spirit of a character. “The night before I got the idea to make the book, I had just tried cooking beef heart—probably one of the most inexpensive and underrated cuts on the cow—and I was actually snacking on some leftovers when the episode with George Takei as Ricardio, the anthropomorphic heart of the Ice King, came on," he told me. "It sort of clicked right there.”
His first challenge in seeing this fantasy to fruition, though, was figuring out if the endeavor was even possible. Could he get someone to publish it? Could he make enough money to justify the time and capital he’d spend on it? After a bit of research, he decided to eschew traditional publishing venues; there were too many hoops to jump through, and the lead time seemed unrealistic. Eventually, he landed on Amazon's CreateSpace, a self-publishing branch. “If there's a downside to it, [it's that] some big book chains won't carry books that are print on demand,” he said, referring to books that are printed to order. “But I find that most people are buying their books online now anyway.”
The whole book—writing the copy and recipes, testing those recipes, and photographing the food handsomely—took Resnick around six months to put together. He’d replaced his own grocery budget with a recipe testing budget, and, as such, he pretty much only ate the foods from the book as he did the prep work for those six months. Writing the cookbook provided some greater logistical hurdles: Food dies fast, Resnick learned. He had to take photos very quickly once each recipe was prepped, and he had to do so without the aid of a food stylist. Resnick also insisted to me that the book is not merely the product of one man’s passion—it was a collective effort. While writing the book, he began looking through Etsy and DeviantArt for compelling Adventure Time art that would befit his vision for the book. He reached out to artists he’d found through these channels and sourced the book's art from them.
“There’s also the vulnerability,” Resnick explained. “Yeah. It's a silly cookbook. I get that. But, damn. I wrote it. I came up with each recipe. I put a lot of work and energy and feeling into creating something and then I just pushed it out there, hoping people wouldn't tell me it sucked.” He was fully aware that he'd be stepping into a minefield; there’s an economy of self-published cookbooks born out of fandom, and they can be hit or miss.
“It's funny, because there are some really great books out there and some really bad ones,” he said. “The bad ones, and I won't call them out by name, aren't even really cookbooks. They are assembly books, with food.” Resnick cited Chris-Rachael Oseland's Dining With The Doctor: The Unauthorized Whovian Cookbook, on the other end of the spectrum, as a particularly strong example of a fan-made cookbook that he looked to for inspiration.
Resnick told me that reviews for Eating Ooo have been overwhelmingly kind. Those that haven’t have either at least taught him something valuable or given him something to laugh at. He's clearly proud of the book two years later.
If Resnick could have a do-over, he’d simply have worked out these logistical kinks more stringently: setting up a more regimented cooking and shooting schedule that allowed him to multipurpose the ingredients between recipes as needed. In the meantime, though, he’s been busy doing much more: He wrote The Extremely Unofficial and Highly Unauthorized Star Wars Kama Sutra last year, and he’s just about to release another book, Yoga Posers: The Ultimate Yoga Book For Geeks.
Resnick doesn’t watch Adventure Time much these days, purely because of the fact that it isn't on television as often. In September, Cartoon Network announced the show would be ending in 2018. Resnick hoped that the network will give the show the time and leeway they need to wrap things up properly.
He was surprised there wasn't an Adventure Time cookbook already when he wrote his: The show is built, after all, around food. To Resnick, it was puzzling why its creators would wait until nearly the start of the seventh year of an eight-year run to come up with this, but he didn't seem to mind that an official cookbook had been released. “The great news is that when anyone searches for the official book, Eating Ooo comes up right next to it,” he told me. “We've got great reviews. Hopefully people will consider picking up both books. I'm sure they are two totally different experiences. Honestly, I was surprised it took them so long.”
Both Eating Ooo: Recipes and Art inspired by Pendleton Ward's Adventure Time and Adventure Time: The Official Cookbook are now available for purchase.