Design is the Key Ingredient on Look Cook, a New Cooking Site
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
There are more cooking sites than any of us know what to do with. Some focus only on one cuisine while others have dietary restrictions in mind. But no matter how much each cooking site strives to bring something different to the table, WNW Member Melanie Chernock noticed all of them falling short in the presentation no matter how incredible the dishes. So the New York-based Designer did us all a favor and started Look Cook, a beautifully-designed cooking site that makes it easy to enjoy making delicious meals and crafting refreshing drinks in the middle of a busy workweek. "There was an opportunity to create a cooking website that was well-designed, easy to navigate, and had a different style of photography."
In our interview below, Melanie tells us how she applies her creative background to Look Cook. She also mentions some of the new creative skills she has had to pick up along the way, like studio lighting and food styling. "I used to cook for fun, but recipe development and testing is a whole different beast. Sometimes I have to make something 10 or more times before it's ready to post. And even after you get the recipe to taste great, that doesn't always mean it will look good on camera, so I had to get better at styling my food. As challenging as all of it is, I still love doing it."
Look Cook is a perfect tool for your kitchen adventures, especially for all you visual creatives who get a bad taste in your mouth from poor design. Melanie had the awesome realization that a cooking site can deliver a good user experience both while browsing the site but also when in action in the kitchen.
Tell us a bit about your creative background. Who is Melanie and how did she get here?
Hi! To go way back, I started coding websites when I was 9. They were pretty basic, but that was my first introduction to design. In high school, I took a commercial art class and found out that I could actually make a career out of what I had been doing in my spare time for fun. For college, I went to SVA and afterwards had a couple full-time jobs and freelanced around. A year ago I decided to take some time off to figure out a side project – I needed a break from the industry and some sort of creative outlet. That's where Look Cook came in.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links all your projects, or do you try to approach each project as its own entity?
When working on branding projects I treat each as its own entity. My aesthetic won't particularly work for every client. But that's where Look Cook is fun, because it's something I can call my own. I try to approach photography like I do design – the image should be clean, minimal, and have some sort of concept to tie it together.
What do you see as the turning point in your creative development and career?
When I went freelance. I had always wanted to try it out and told myself if I didn't like it I could always go back to being full time. But I haven't had the urge to – I've been able to work at so many amazing places with some very talented people.
What was the impetus behind starting your latest project Look Cook? When did you first get into cooking?
I used to cook a lot growing up, but then I moved to Manhattan and lived in a studio. I had a tiny kitchen where the only space to cook was a counter-height IKEA bookshelf. I later moved to Brooklyn where the kitchen was the size of my entire studio, so that definitely inspired me to cook again. At first, I wasn't able to naturally throw stuff together so I would turn to food blogs to find recipes. I felt like a majority of them were moms cooking for their families, or they had some sort of vegan, plant-based focus – there was nothing I felt like I could relate to or get excited about.
The people behind them also have more of a culinary vs. design background so, for the most part, they all use the same website template and are copying how other people shoot their food. The user experience also isn't taken into consideration – often you have to scroll through paragraphs of text and dozens of process photos. By the time you get to the recipe, you scroll right past it because you're trying to get through everything else. Ok, done venting now! I basically just felt like there was an opportunity to create a cooking website that was well-designed, easy to navigate, and had a different style of photography.
What separates Look Cook from other cooking sites?
I thought it was important that all of the recipes serve 1-2 people. Usually, it's just me and my boyfriend, so when I followed other recipes I'd have to awkwardly divide it in half, or end up with a bunch of leftovers we'd never end up eating due to our unpredictable work schedules. Each recipe suggests the best, most affordable equipment you need to make it, as well as where to buy any of the props used in the shot. I also wanted the site to be really helpful to people who don't cook a lot. You can hover over any ingredient or technique that’s underlined in the directions to see the definition and a helpful visual. All of these terms can be found in the glossary.
Can you share some of the challenges and breakthroughs that came with launching Look Cook?
So so many. When I started Look Cook, I was really the most excited about designing the branding and the website. I didn't have the money to hire a photographer, so I taught myself how to do everything. I could work a camera, but knew nothing about studio lighting and other equipment I would need. I basically went to B&H, showed the staff reference photos of the look I was trying to achieve, and was like "Okay, what can I buy that isn’t crazy expensive?" Even after I had the right equipment, it took a lot of messing around before I got the hang of it. I'm still learning a lot, but luckily I'm pretty good at Photoshop.
Then there are the actual recipes. I used to cook for fun, but recipe development and testing is a whole different beast. Sometimes I have to make something 10 or more times before it's ready to post. And even after you get the recipe to taste great, that doesn't always mean it will look good on camera, so I had to get better at styling my food. As challenging as all of it is, I still love doing it.
How did you apply your design and art direction skills to this passion project?
It's pretty much the driving force behind it. I often figure out how I want the overall shot to look before I develop the recipe. I'm naturally a designer vs. a chef, so when it comes to plating it's much easier for me to photoshop the composition instead of figuring it out on the spot. This way I can plan out how each ingredient looks on the plate, which props I should use, and what kind of backdrop or materials I'll need for it.
What advice do you have for creatives and freelancers who struggle to find the time to properly feed themselves?
Always keep the essentials on hand (whatever that means to you) so you can put something together last minute. And when all else fails, there's Seamless.
What’s your most treasured cooking possession?
Did you want to be a chef when you were growing up?
Not exactly – I still consider myself more of a designer who likes to cook vs. a chef. Growing up I would always cook with my Mom and when I was bored would turn to cooking or baking (which is still the case).
Who are your biggest creative influences?
When it comes to Look Cook, I'm really inspired by Carl Kleiner. He has a graphic approach to his photography – lots of clean lines and very minimal. He shoots food the same way he would shoot a fashion editorial, which is what I'm trying to achieve with Look Cook to some extent.
What scares you most about making creativity your career?
I'm not scared – if anything, I feel very fortunate that I'm able to make creativity my career.
What do you do when Not Working and Not Cooking?
Me and my boyfriend bought a car last year, which changed everything. We've been going on a lot of road trips – we recently camped our way through Maine and drove up to Quebec. It's so nice to have the freedom to leave the city without having to hassle with a train, bus, or rent a car.
One album, one movie, one show. Go.
Pete's Bangers (playlist on Spotify – don't ask, just listen), Clueless, Black Mirror
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard or received that all creatives should hear?
Anything that James Victore says. I had him as a teacher at SVA and still admire his point of view. Watch his Youtube channel and have your life be changed.
Who are some other WNW Members whose work you admire and why?
I love Zipeng Zhu and Stephanie Gonot's work – they each have a very playful and colorful style. I've also had the pleasure of working with both of them.
What’s next for you and Look Cook?
No idea! I'm still just winging it and trying to focus on coming up with the best content I can. The dream is for Look Cook to become my full-time job instead of a side project.