I never saw ebooks as simply a print book without paper. It struck me that ebooks offer the opportunity to be more than transferring words on paper to words on screen, or to be just an easy way out for self-publishing authors and publishers with extensive backlists to put their titles on the market. I thought that was throwing away the potential of books published on electronic media. So I looked for ways to experiment. I found it at a medieval feast.

Chef Channon Mondoux put on a banquet for several hundred medievalists here in Kalamazoo, Mich. She had meticulously researched recipes from the 16th century Ottoman Empire and earlier centuries that would have been served at the palace of Süleyman the Magnificent in Constantinople, now known as the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. I covered the feast for a magazine, but I thought this was too cool, too exotic. I found the subject for my experiment.

Click to go to iTunes description.

Celebration at the Sarayi, a very special kind of cookbook, was born. Chef Channon is the author, but it is a work of extensive collaboration, and it’s taken even more collaboration to finally make it available for the Apple iPad as an app sold in the iTunes store. It went up on iTunes a couple of days ago.

Good cookbooks are primarily good stories – stories about families, about the past, about culture. This was all of that, in a more heightened way than most cookbooks. For multimedia elements, certainly we included cooking demos such as how to stuff grape leaves. But to make it sound truly exotic, I brought in a local actor to play the part of a storyteller in an Istanbul coffee shop, inviting readers to travel back in time to the Ottoman royal palace in the 16th century. A semi-retired doctor turned musician played Middle Eastern instruments exquisitely to provide the soundtrack for the narration. To make their talents gel into what I needed, I brought in a director to work with them and with the sound engineer to produce the audio tracks, played against an array of historical images.

Chef Channon, meanwhile, worked with numerous other cooks to test the recipes she pieced together from historical records. Speaking of those records, we had extensive help from a Haitian-born translator with a book published in classic French that was itself a translation from ancient Turkish. We had more help from a long-time Los Angeles Times food writer and a university prof with some of the original Turkish text. The Times writer also wrote the forward to the cookbook.

I was the ebooks’s designer, but also played the role of producer, fitting together the efforts of all these talented people into one mixed media work. You can find their names in the e-cookbook’s credits and acknowledgments. When first published in late 2008, it was as a multimedia PDF, viewable on all computer platforms, and is still available that way from the TEC Publishing website But it had too many features to be viewed on the initial wave of Kindle and other ebook readers. When Apple released its iPad, I thought, “Finally, a device that does the work justice.”

Not so fast. The iPad was much more proprietary than expected. A multimedia PDF wouldn’t work on it. Finally I found an app, ezPDF Reader, that would show the cookbook on the iPad, but it took some adjusting and a few emails with the app’s developer, Unidocs of Korea, to come up with a second edition that worked. Then I got an email from Don Choi of Unidocs, offering to make Celebration at the Sarayi an app for the iPad and iPhone, making it available for sale and download from iTunes. A version for Android tablets should also come out soon.

So began another round of collaboration. Ultimately, Celebration at the Sarayi involved a Canadian chef (Channon), an American designer and publisher (me), mostly American assistance from those mentioned above, a Haitian translator, Turkish consulate officials helping us with pronunciations and finally sending Channon to Turkey, and a Korean programmer to put a Turkish cookbook on an iPad, a device designed in California and built in China and Brazil.

TEC Publishing had become an engine in the global economy, albeit a tiny engine.

So far.

[Sample pages including the opening animated narration can be viewed at the TEC Publishing website.]