The cookbook sector hasn’t had its Netflix-Spotify-Wikipedia-Facebook moment – until now. And if CKBK has its way, this disruption will have even more impact. Already its app speaks directly to connected ovens, optimising them for CKBK recipes, via Home Connect, letting cooks know what’s going on though phone notifications.
In the future, having checked e-grocery receipts, and what’s in the fridge, it will also recommend recipes.
This month, new community features launched, allowing cooks to share reviews, ratings, ask authors and one another questions about recipes, and save their private notes.
It’s not the first time Matthew Cockerill has re-designed a business model – he was behind Open Access, enabling free access to academic research papers for the first time.
This has recently played its part in the “rapid advance of analysis, public health policy and data around coronavirus,” he says.
“Sometimes historic business models don’t evolve quickly enough and there needs to be disruption to make the best the best of digital.”
“The possibility of CKBK Originals is in play”
So how will CKBK change cooking?
“Cooking is about our relationship with others, the world, our history and our culture,” he explains.
“We have seen so many other areas of culture transformed by digital platforms like music and movies but on the other hand when it comes to food, the world of celebrity chefs and printed cookbooks has stuck to the same Gutenburg model [as in the 15-Century inventor of the printing press].
“We bring together the best food content and connect the references, then we connect outwards into the wider digital ecosystem.
“We work directly with some authors so the possibility of CKBK Originals is in play. Authors can find an audience and get more value from the content they’ve created via our platform.
“Lots of food magazines no longer exist, many established platforms aren’t what they once were. That demonstrates the need for re-invention.
“So, via CKBK more people will be able to get the fulfilment of cooking, building up skills and sharing that food. Cooking is such a social activity that binds us together within communities, families, but also acting as a bridge between different cultures.
“If people aren’t confident about some oven features, we provide that hand-holding”
“And it’s a reaction to some trends, like just press a button to get food delivered or meal kits where you plonk things in the right order. Or the ultimate example with meal replacements – a powder.
“All those things will keep you alive, but you miss out on so much of the joy of food and cooking.
“Smart technology has been able to switch the lights on or check who’s at the door. But in recent years there’s been a lot of connectivity going into kitchen appliances.
“It can be sending timing, temperature and mode to the oven. Or the probe target temperature. So, if you’re cooking a big joint of meat you can put in the temperature probe, or even sous vide where you’re cooking things to a very precise temperature.
“People might not be confident about how to use some features of their oven. We can provide that hand-holding along the way.
“In the process of trying out one of our recipes which is about appliance integration you’re also building knowledge that you can use in your future cooking. Because we can connect everything together, it’s a more interactive guided experience than a traditional appliance manual
“The Home Connect integration supports all the Bosch Siemens oven brands, which include NEFF, Gaggenau and, in the USA, Thermador. In many cases, these ovens now come with several months of complimentary Premium Membership access to CKBK. Within our 100,000-plus recipes there are more than 15,000 oven recipes, all of which can send the instructions straight to the appliance.
“I looked around and realised the world of food was ripe for disruption”
“I’ve always been a bit of a tech geek, but keen to apply tech to something meaningful in the real world.
“I did a PHD in science and became really excited about the way in which digital technologies were changing biology, especially.
“Open access publishing, as pioneered by BioMed Central, has been extremely successful. It’s been widely adopted and open access is now required by all the major biomedical funders. But that means, in a way, it has now become the establishment and is not disruptive anymore.
“I looked around and realised the world of food was very much ripe for disruption as well. I wondered how we could bring more of that Spotify sort of business model to cookbook content, making it a first class citizen of the digital world.
“We kicked off the process in 2015. We asked hundreds of top chefs and food writers around the world what their top 10 cookbooks were.
“We then spent time seeing whether it was possible to licence a critical mass of content. We managed to put in place a good number of deals with some major publishers. And we launched the subscription service in March 2019.”
“Lots of cuisine is footnotes to Escoffier or reactions against it”
Subscribers currently run to thousands rather than hundreds of thousands, he says, “But we have hundreds of thousands of active users every month already making use of three free “taster” recipes each month.
“What’s nice with the CKBK platform is authors and publishers get to see which are their most popular books and which are the most popular recipes within those books. Readers can ask questions, give reviews and share their own experiences.
“They make connections between recipes, writers, ingredients and ovens as well as with history and culture.
“The great food writers and chefs of the past tend to become invisible, as newer books come along, and older ones go out of print. That’s such a missed opportunity. In contrast, there’s still a huge cultural presence for a classic film like Casablanca or for the Rolling Stones, or Charles Dickens.
“Each generation of cooks and chefs builds on the one before but that has not been reflected in the digital world. Only the most recent books tend to have ebook editions.
“When you want to understand the classic cuisine of a country like France you really want to be able to go to Escoffier [first published in 1903] as the canonical reference.
“It’s a bit like Philosophy being footnotes to Plato, but lots of cuisine is footnotes to Escoffier at some level, or reactions against it, like nouvelle cuisine.
“We’re interested in academic partnerships to look at how the use of ingredients changes”
“You wouldn’t understand Picasso without the context of the Old Masters and the Impressionists.
“Or by filtering via ingredients, for example, you can see their cultural history. Take quince… you’ll only find a few recent recipes. But if you go back to the 19th century, it seems like every other recipe uses quince.
“Via data mining and analysis, we’re very interested in developing academic partnerships to look in more detail at how the use of ingredients changes through the eras.
“Around affordability and cooking, we have Jack Monroe’s books on the CKBK platform which are really good for using simple recipes and low-cost ingredients.
“And we work with a London charity called Bags of Taste which builds cooking skills among disadvantaged communities, as well.
“In the UK, we hardly teach cooking in schools anymore and with both parents often working, kids aren’t necessarily picking up cooking skills to the same extent within their family. That’s where CKBK can help.
“The more you build up the basic skills, the more confidence you have to take low-cost ingredients and make something delicious.
“A recipe could warrant an eco badge, like a pescatarian badge”
“Some of what we do is at the high-end, for professional chefs, but that’s relevant too. It’s an area with so many opportunities – there’s a real shortage of staff in hospitality right now. Wages are going up to address this, and there are also so many opportunities for food entrepreneurs these days, with the growth of street food markets.”
As soon as a general consensus has been agreed on carbon metrics, CKBK would include those measurements against recipes, he says.
“Maybe a recipe could warrant an eco badge, like a pescatarian badge, for example,” he says.
And through greater awareness, cooks are better able to determine the difference between, for example, the nutritional value of traditional processing as opposed to the poor nutrition and obesity associated with modern ultra-processed products.
“If you go to Mexico all of the food made with corn is treated with nixtamalisation by being steeped in lime which causes a reaction,” he says.
“When we say we shouldn’t be living off Twinkies, that’s about chemicals as ingredient substitutions or nutrients having been removed. When you turn wheat into white flour it will make a delicious French pastry, but also reduce its ability to deliver the fibre and vitamins we need to stay healthy.
“No-one is more critical than me of the horrors of British Chorleywood processed bread. We’ve taken something and made it cheaper but on multiple fronts it’s a step backwards.
“It doesn’t mean you can’t improve food, make it tastier and nutritious through the right types of processing.
“We have an American book called Better Than Store Bought from the 1970s it’s about understanding how to avoid industrial processing and make it yourself.”