Creating your own custom cookbook

In my kitchen there is a drawer and in it lives one copy of Julia Child’s "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" alongside what feels like hundreds of recipes scrawled on pieces of scrap paper. Amongst these are recipes passed down from my grandma that I had frantically clung to during my first few years living on my own.

So, when I finally decided to undertake the lofty task of sorting through my infamous kitchen drawer and creating my own cookbook, I went to our own Bridget White, designer and exceptional cookbook creator for our MILK Book’s sister company PQ Blackwell. Bridget is the woman behind some of my all-time favorite cookbooks including "The Great New Zealand Cookbook" and "Love & Food at Gran's Table."

1. How many books have you designed?
I have worked on about 20 books for PQ Blackwell – sometimes I will be heavily involved in the look and feel of the final product, while at other times I focus on the production/print aspects of a book. PQ Blackwell’s list has become smaller over the years as we’re more interested in producing an exclusive selection of high-quality photographic books with high production values. I feel very lucky to be working with such incredibly talented photographers and authors.

2. What have been your favorite projects to work on?
We recently worked on a cookbook for the Australian and New Zealand market called ‘Love & Food at Gran’s Table’. A well-known local chef called Natalie Oldfield was inspired by her beloved late grandmother to collect recipes and stories from grandmothers all around the world. The result was a beautiful book that I’m very proud of, as it reflects my personal style and even includes some of my original illustrations!

3. What do you enjoy about designing books?
I love that my job allows me to be creative. I get to work on a variety of projects with a wonderful editorial team, and at the end of each project we’ve created a beautiful, tangible object that we can put on the shelf and say ‘we made that!'

4. Recently you have been working on a lot of cookbooks; do you have any tips for people wanting to design a recipe book?
Make sure you balance function and form. Ensure that the book is as easy to read and use as possible – this might mean using left-aligned text rather than centred text, using large, clear, sans-serif typography, or using a minimum of colours, fonts, etc.

5. What photography works best for cookbooks?
Make sure the focus is on the food – you can use some props to complement the food but don’t get too carried away! Close-cropping is usually a good idea, and it’s always handy to have a large selection to choose from.

6. Any other tips / hints you would like to share?
Designing and producing a book can take time, and sometimes your initial ideas may not work, so be patient! Sometimes you can be so deeply involved in the design of a book that you lose sight of your original goals and aspirations – for this reason, it’s always a good idea to get other peoples’ opinions. Keep your eyes open when it comes to other books and other photography that may inspire you!

Inspired to clear out your own recipe drawer? You can browse through MILK's recipe book formats here >