Ten years ago, when Will Schwalbe co-founded Cookstr, a digital collection of recipes culled from cookbooks, he envisioned a site that highlighted the work and recipes of cookbook authors that didn’t necessarily have big platforms. In 2014, Macmillan acquired Cookstr, and in May, the site will make its foray into print with Picador Cookstr Classics, a line that aims to revive classic out-of-print cookbooks.
“One of the things that was part of the guiding philosophy of Cookstr is celebrating great cookbook authors,” said Schwalbe, who stayed on to head up Cookstr. (He added the role of v-p of editorial development and content innovation, when Macmillan bought the site.) “When people think of the food world, they think of chefs, but they forget that many of the great cookbooks were written by cookbook authors…[Ones] you love and use and treasure and pass on.”
The first three books in the series, all on sale May 5, are The Confident Cook (originally published in 1975) by Irena Chalmers, Sameen Rushdie's Indian Cookery (1988) by Sameen Rushdie, and Cooking in a Small Kitchen (1979) by Arthur Schwartz.
In terms of selecting the inaugural titles, Cookstr “really wanted to focus on books that are for home cooks,” said Kara Rota, Cookstr’s director of editorial partnerships, and senior editor at Macmillan. “All three of these books are really focused on how people want to cook at home. That’s always what Cookstr was for.”
Each book will maintain original formatting and text—with the same recipes, headnotes, and black and white illustrations, but will be updated with a new foreword. Owner of La Varenne cooking school Anne Willan will provide the foreword for The Confident Cook, Salman Rushdie for Indian Cookery (the novelist is the author’s brother), and Lidia Bastianich for Cooking in a Small Kitchen. “We wanted someone to be able to put [the authors’] cookbook, work, and recipes into context,” said Schwalbe. “That was a joy, we had all these great names. It turned to be one of the easiest parts of the process.”
In addition to new editorial, the books have also been treated to new cover designs that “speak to the retro appeal,” according to Rota. “[It’s] an aesthetic that younger readers are really drawn to.”
While so many contemporary cookbooks feature artful photography, Schwalbe said they aimed for a design that would signify that the Cookstr books “are for people who like the written word, and who like to cook.” He added that "the writing is sensational in all three of these books. We wanted covers that were unmistakable as cookbooks, but really were literary as well. In the kitchen of our dreams people would have full sets of these.”
The collaboration marks new territory for Picador, as well—the titles will be the imprint's first cookbooks.
“Cookstr and Picador are both housed on the 19th floor of the Flatiron [Building], so there's a lot of opportunity for collaboration here and I think we're all excited about that,” said James Meader, v-p, executive director of publicity at Picador. On the publicity front, the Cookstr team will be making May a “Cookstr Classics Takeover” of its Clever Cookstr podcast, conducting interviews with Rushdie, Chalmers, and Schwartz.
Going forward, Rota said that they are aiming to publish three titles in the series per year, and Cookstr is currently narrowing down the list for next year’s batch.