I write about food for a living. My bookshelves are lined with cookbooks. And yet, I never know what to make for dinner. ckbk a new online service that that bills itself as Spotify for cookbooks, intends to change all that.
This is not just a way to access new books. Ckbk will make it possible to search by ingredient(s), create shopping lists, set your preference for units of measurement, and generate nutritional information on each recipe. Matthew Cockerill, ckbk co-founder, told me in a phone interview that they’re launching in May with a library of 500 books—a list created by asking avid professional cooks including Nigella Lawson, Yotam Ottolenghi, and Daniel Boulud, for favorite cookbook recommendations. All those books—some 100,000 recipes in all—will be accessible in your kitchen through the ckbk app, which, as the slight film of maple syrup on my phone can attest, is reflective of how many of us cook now.
Need to use up an ingredient? You can search for recipes using it. Want to make a themed meal from the 1970s—or 1870? You can search by the year the cookbook was published? There are also filters for prep time, author, and diet, so you can really make the most of collection, depending on the way you want to eat. It also includes reference books like Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking.
In addition to those practical, modern updates, ckbk is designed to create community around beloved cookbooks. Just like you can tell the best recipes in physical cookbooks—like the Joy of Cooking I purloined from my mom, from the splatters on the pages—ckbk will reveal how other people are cooking. While some popular cookbooks might generate a cult favorite recipe or two that goes viral, it’s hard to know what other cooks like about a specific book without lots of asking around. “What are the most popular recipes and how people are using it is invisible at the moment,” Cockerill said about the experience of using a conventional cookbook.
As users add comments, questions, and photos to recipes, ckbk will become a richer experience, and will suggest new recipes based on what you’ve cooked before. He also envisions ckbk as a way for cookbook authors to reach fans in a more useful format than posting a photo or a link on social media, by answering questions or adding their own notes.
One of the most appealing elements to me is that by starting with 500 very solid, well vetted choices, ckbk cuts through the hype of trend-driven, chef-centric books. That focus on the back catalogue appealed to the publishing industry when Cockerill and his business partner, Nadia Arumugam, approached authors and publishers about the project. “We found that many authors and agents were recognizing that these backlists of really great cookbooks…because of the economics of print, they weren’t really very accessible, they weren’t really generating revenue for the authors,” Cockerill said.
Right now the plan is to launch for a group of founder subscribers (get on the wait list here) in late May, and and then open up a freemium model offering access to some parts for free, and enhanced features for a monthly fee. I’m hoping that ckbk will get me out of the habit of searching online for a new way to cook brussels sprouts, then going through three or four cookbooks, and finally settling on my go-to recipe after wasting 30 minutes. I imagine I’ll be surprised to discover all the excellent recipes that have been lurking on my shelves, unread and uncooked, all along.