Cupcakes! Food Network builds an interactive cookbook

Food Network’s digital strategy has always been fairly straightforward: to supplement its cable TV content and promote its on-air talent. Consequently its website, social media efforts and mobile apps are all linked to its programming — aggregating recipes, blogs and video from its shows and celebrity chefs. But this week Food Network deviated from that strategy.
It launched what can only be described as digital interactive coffee table recipe book centered on the theme of today’s hippest dessert: cupcakes. The iPad (s aapl) app (available for $2.99 in the iTunes App Store) is stocked with lush interactive photographs and video, designed to entice the food fetishist in us all, and while it’s full of recipes and instructive lessons, it’s an easy app to flip through, letting you swipe between one tantalizing cupcake image to the next – just like the bound food-porn tomes that grace end tables and bookstore cookbook displays around the world.
The app is slick, which immediately raises my suspicions. In general, pretty cookbooks are a waste of money – the quantity and quality of photographs in cookbooks are usually in inverse proportion to the usefulness of the recipes they illustrate. But Bob Madden, GM and SVP of online brands for Food Network and The Cooking Channel, said his team designed the app to be a useful kitchen aid as well as eye candy. FN filled the app with instructional videos demonstrating baking and frosting techniques and it tested every recipe in FN’s San Francisco New York City test kitchens.
In addition, FN isn’t just repurposing recipes and videos from its TV shows and website for the app. It contains some cupcake ideas from Alton Brown and other network personalities, and it features a section of recipes from its FN program “Cupcake Wars,” but most of its content is original. The photos and videos were shot and the recipes collected, refined and compiled specifically for the app, Madden said.

So is Food Network, which is jointly owned by Scripps Networks Interactive and the Tribune Company, building up a side business in digital cookbook publishing? Not exactly, Madden said. The app isn’t free and it does contain advertising from Food Network sponsors, but ultimately apps like “Cupcakes” — and even FN’s print cookbook business — are designed to promote the Food Network and Cooking Channel brands. You’ll probably see more efforts like “Cupcakes” to create content that exists apart from its TV programming, Madden said, but FN looks at digital content as way to expand the content available to its core TV fan base as well as create niche or segmented content it can’t offer over its cable channels.
I’ll admit, I’m not much of a baker and my tolerance for cutesy cupcakes is low, but this app is impressive. It utilizes the new capabilities of the tablet format well. For instance there’s a frosting section that let’s you scroll through a palette of different icing colors. You tap on a frosting color and a screen pops up detailing the exact proportion of colored gels necessary to reproduce it. We’re starting to see more and more interactive cookbooks designed specifically for the tablet format. Inkling’s digital version of The Professional Chef, Food52’s Holiday Recipe and Survival Guide, and Open Air Publishing’s Mixology are all good examples.