The David Chang journal and app that was announced last week is just the first of a new imprint McSweeney’s Books is launching later this spring. Inspired by the very encouraging response to the food section in a one-off newspaper prototype McSweeney’s published in December 2009, McSweeney’s co-publisher Chris Ying wanted to create an imprint for cookbooks. “The overwhelmingly positive response to that section gave us an inkling that there was a market and demand for a more unconventional approach to cookbooks,” Ying told PW. Describing the imprint, Ying said, “We're trying to make something that appeals not only to foodies, but to readers who appreciate good writing and art in general.”
Ying, who worked as a line cook through college, is running the as-of-yet-unnamed imprint (he said they will be deciding on a name “very soon”). He wanted to bring what he calls “the McSweeney's approach” to cookbooks. So what will McSweeney’s cookbooks look like? If you saw the newspaper, which was called the San Francisco Panorama, you’ll have a good idea. The paper included a food section that featured a visual guide called “Ramen, Deciphered,” in which Chang explained how to make the perfect bowl of ramen.
Ever since then, Ying said, he, Chang, and Chang’s cowriter on The Momofuku Cookbook, Peter Meehan, had been trying to find a way to work together again. Called Lucky Peach, the book is actually a quarterly print journal; each issue will come with an iPad app. Every issue will focus on a particular dish or ingredient. The subject of the first app/journal will, unsurprisingly, be ramen, a dish that is practically synonymous with Chang’s name. On the app, which is being produced by Zero Point Zero Production, users can click on ingredients and get some 35 videos and 50 recipes. As the New York Times Diner’s Journal blog reported, the app will include a tour of a ramen factory in Japan; an interview with a Tennessee smokehouse master whose bacon Chang uses to make ramen broth; a talk by author Harold McGee on hot broth’s effects on noodles; and a scrollable timeline tracing the rise of ramen in Japan over the last century. Celebrities including Wylie Dufresne, Charlie Rose, and Anthony Bourdain will also make appearances. Chang told the Times he had discussed a TV program with television networks but that the app/journal “offered more freedom and more possibilities, as well as providing research and development for his restaurants.” Ying said the print version of the journal will come out after the app is released.
Another book on the imprint’s inaugural list is Mission Street Food:Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant by Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz, who founded Mission Street Food, a pop-up restaurant in San Francisco. Myint now runs Mission Chinese Food, which, though not quite at Momofuku’s level, has achieved a sort of cult following among San Francisco foodies. Juliet Litman, publicity director for McSweeney’s, said the $30 hardcover, which pubs in late June and does not have a tech component, “will be a totally new take on the food book style, including recipes, instructions on how to run a profitable and charitable restaurant, and much more.”
Although Ying said McSweeney’s isn’t defined by a particular kind of cookbook, it is “looking for subjects and writers who are open to pushing form forward. And while the Mission Street Food book is unique, it's also a cookbook at heart. That's what makes me ridiculously excited. I think there's a lot of room for exploration when it comes to cookbook formatting—whether it's in recipe presentation, or in the way that a restaurant narrative interacts with the larger world.”