As anyone who frequents recipe sites like AllRecipes, Epicurious or FoodNetwork.com knows, user reviews are some of the most valuable content on the sites. They’ll tell you if a recipe is a flop, a star, better with more garlic, or really feeds eight people (and not 18). Amazon might be able to provide such information, but most of the cookbook reviews that appear on the retailer’s site are more focused on a the cookbook as a whole, not on individual recipes. Yes, the new Thomas Keller cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home, is beautiful—but how is its recipe for Brined Pork Tenderloin?
Enter Cookbooker, which launched this fall. The social networking site for cookbook users lets people rate and review recipes from cookbooks and food magazines. Much like Goodreads, LibraryThing, and Shelfari, Cookbooker has a community of users who create their own “bookshelves,” stocked with cookbooks they own or want to own. The site is small, but growing: so far there are a few hundred registered members, yet in November, Cookbooker clocked about 20,000 page views. There are almost 2,000 cookbooks catalogued on the site so far. Cookbooker is free for anyone to join.
Web site developer and avid home cook Andrew Gray (left) started Cookbooker out of personal need; he owns more than 100 cookbooks and food magazines and would spend hours hunting through them for a recipe he knew he’d made before and enjoyed. “And then I realized that I kept cooking the same handful of familiar recipes over and over, and rarely trying anything new because I just didn’t know which ones in my books were good and which ones were duds,” said Gray, who lives in Vancouver Island, Canada.
Of course, like much of the Web, Cookbooker depends largely on the masses joining in. Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything features some 2,000 recipes, but only 23 of them appear on Cookbooker. There are no recipes reviewed from the new and popular Gourmet Today, Momofuku, or The Pioneer Woman Cooks; other timely titles, such as So Easy by Ellie Krieger and My New Orleans by John Besh aren’t even listed (though it’s easy for users to add them).
For inspiration when building Cookbooker, Gray looked at Epicurious, since it offers so many reviews; Library Thing, because of its ability to unite people to catalog books socially; and Yelp, to observe how the site’s administrators rank and present “collaborative reviews.”
In the future, Gray plans to being offering enhanced listings to publishers and cookbook authors. Some enhancements will be free, others paid for (and Gray says he polices the site to make sure publishers and authors don’t review their own books or solicit reviews from friends). He is also hoping cookbook stores will help him attract traffic, possibly by organizing promotions wherein store customers would help review every recipe in a particular cookbook.
Even in its small state, Cookbooker is yet another way cookbooks are continuing to find new lives online. “I love going to places like Epicurious,” Gray said, “and I wished I had something like that for my cookbooks.” Now he does.
This story originally appeared in Cooking the Books, PW's e-newsletter for cookbooks.