Recipe Collection - How to Monetize?

I have over 3,000 recipes saved in digital format, my personal archive, all keyworded by source and main ingredients. Word and PDF files. Mostly done for my professional work over the last few decades, but also a healthy cure to a wee OCD problem. :-)

I need your tips on how to turn this into a public searchable archive.

They go back to the 1990s and are all from the best branded cooking sites. They also include a lot of "tips" files on cooking technique.

Aside from bequeathing a bunch of CDs to perplexed family, what would you do with this very cool collection? I think the value is that in one search, you can come up with reliable recipes from all the best brands.

I'm not sure who said, "Make your mess your message" but there, I did it, I put it out there! Although I wouldn't call it a mess, exactly.... it's extremely well organized.

Thanks for your ideas!

  • Posted by: Pegeen
  • November 8, 2018


Pegeen November 8, 2018
Wow! Love this. I learned a lot and will re-read this several times. If you don't have a blog, please start one. Please! The combination of in-depth food knowledge and writing expertise is a rare one, and I know I speak for many when I say it enriches life.

I agree wholeheartedly... a picture is worth a thousand words. I think all food sites assume people can always go to YouTube for whatever video they need, and spare themselves the expense of producing it. I don't know what the monetary magic is. When I really want to know something I start with Serious Eats or Cooks Illustrated.

I don't post very often, but when I do, I always stress "read the comments!" because the truth lies in other readers experience. It's amazing how many good sources publish wobbly recipes (wrong quantities for ingredients, missing steps, etc.). The 10 minutes reading comments can save the cook quite a bit of misery.

My grandmother was an Irish immigrant who worked as a kitchen servant for very wealthy American royalty. She was talented and they invested in her by sending her, as one of the first women enrollees, to the Cordon Bleu cooking school in New York City. I learned standing at her side, when she cooked dinner for us on her frequent Sunday visits. It was no fun (I really got a hard smack for everything I did wrong - she did not suffer children gladly), but it was her explaining the science of cooking that fascinated me. And she taught me the art of table setting and proper serving of food. I don't know if I could have learned all that by reading it, no matter how well-written. Everything important I've ever learned, about anything, has been taught to me one-on-one.

Thank you, cv, for your very thoughtful response. I am grateful and will save it to re-read.

702551 November 8, 2018
Here's another way of looking at this.

Do you have a nice pasta dough recipe? I'm sure you do. I have a few saved up. Do I need another one? No, not really.

However, I'm happy that I have about ten pasta dough recipes from the same guy: Paul Bertolli.

He was one of the longest-tenured chefs at Chez Panisse during the era (Eighties, Nineties) when getting a reservation was very difficult. He co-wrote easily the best cookbook from that restaurant "Chez Panisse Cooking" and finally struck off on his own to open Oliveto Restaurant during which time he wrote "Cooking By Hand" arguably the finest English-language cookbook from the past thirty years. He subsequently left to start Fra'Mani Salumeria.

In "Cooking By Hand" he devotes a chapter to pasta. The first 12 pages describe his philosophy, ingredients, equipment and technique before getting to the first recipe, one for basic pasta. By the time you reach the recipe, you already know that whatever pasta you make won't be as good as what he served at his restaurant because of the twelve introductory pages.

He discovered that to break through his plateau of good pasta versus truly great pasta, he needed to get serious about his ingredients, primarily flour since that's the main ingredient. He ended up milling his own flour at the restaurant, first by hand, later by a mill powered by an electric motor (to not burn out his employees).

That's right, pasta made from a bag of flour that you grab off a supermarket store shelf isn't going to be as good as a pasta made from fresh flour slowly milled from carefully selected wheat.

No standalone pasta dough recipe will tell you this.

He then goes on to include some dish recipes followed by an egg-yolk pasta dough recipe. "This recipes works best for certain dishes." More dishes ideal for that type of pasta. Followed by a recipe for semolina dough for flat pastas. More specific dish recipes. Another recipe for wetter dough for filled pastas (e.g., ravioli). All in all, I think he offers ten pasta dough recipes. And I'm sure he didn't include all of his.

So yeah, having one (or ten) pasta dough recipe(s) is great, but the reasoning behind is far more valuable than just the ingredient list or instructions.

So the question you should ask yourself is "At what point does my pasta dough recipe drown in an ocean of pasta dough recipes?"

The Bertolli cookbook is the antithesis of Food52's current recipe writing philosophy (which is shared by many food sites in 2018). His cookbook has B&W photos of the food preparation process (particularly in the charcuterie chapter) or ingredients. There are zero beauty shots of the final dishes.

Here at Food52, the site has basically abandoned the use of process photography and only publishes beauty shots.

Bertolli's recipes are maniacally precise, particularly the cured meats ones. 0.25 grams of this, 1 gram of that, 7 grams of this, 168 grams of that.

I doubt that he will ever publish a cured meats cookbook. If he did, it would be the most meticulous cookbook of the 21st century appealing to an astronomically small number of American readers who are willing to go to the fanatical lengths that he does.

Anyhow, read the pasta chapter from "Cooking By Hand" and then think whether or not you have anything additional to add to what Bertolli published. I certainly do not.
702551 November 8, 2018
Your first step should be to consult a copyright attorney based on this following phrase:

"They go back to the 1990s and are all from the best branded cooking sites."

This implies that the content you have collected is someone else's intellectual property. You will need to get permission from them to reproduce their work.

I'm not a lawyer but my basic understanding of copyright is that it protects the original author.

One simply can't redistribute a 25 year old recipe from Cook's Illustrated just because you liked it.

Anyhow, consult a lawyer before you do anything else.

Best of luck.
Pegeen November 8, 2018
CV, thank you. My mistake: I should have explained that I do understand there are significant copyright issues at hand. [Or I wonder if Julian Assange needs a downtime project?]

But putting that aside for a minute... would you want a searchable archive like that? Is it of interest?

702551 November 8, 2018
Okay, setting aside the copyright issues, I'll speak for myself.

I would be more interested in a highly curated collection of rather than a big smorgasbord of recipes.

Google will help me find all sorts of recipes from all reaches of the Internet. The biggest problem is figuring out which ones are good.

Let's say I want a recipe for tomato sauce. If I printed out all of the recipes on the Internet for tomato sauce, it would probably generate enough paper to sink a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.

The provenance of the recipe and reputation of the author is important to me.

Sometimes the commentary about a topic is more important than the recipe itself.

Sure, I can look up boiled rice in Fanny Farmer and get instructions that would barely fill a paragraph. Or I could read 10 pages of background from a Japanese cooking school founder/cookbook author explaining *WHY* something is done.

Which one has greater value?

There are plenty of recipes that are actually more understandable when the words are supplemented with other media.

For example, take puff pastry dough. If you read written instructions, they are typically obtusely written. Photos can help, but if you show a quick video of how the butter is folded and turned, it's super simple.

Often the written word is not the most effective form of communication to explain an idea. That's one shortcoming of the written word that many writers simply don't understand.

Now if I knew you personally and had eaten many times at your table before and I deemed you as good of a cook as anyone else, yes, your archive might be interesting.

Admittedly, I'm not much of a recipe follower so perhaps your project would interest others more than me.

Best of luck.
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