12.09.12

Technology Masters Hit the Kitchen for Charity

But can they cook? A new book culls sweet and spicy recipes from bold-name entrepreneurs, coders, and venture capitalists. Melissa Lafsky reviews.

If Matt Mullenweg invites you to brunch, say yes.  

The founder of WordPress and Automattic won’t just hand you some toast and scrambled eggs. He’ll concoct a mixture of Applewood smoked bacon, Sherry vinegar, pure maple syrup, and cave-aged gruyere, meticulously prepared sous-vide, a method of cooking involving heated airtight bags. 

Technology leaders have become de rigueur in the mainstream press, enjoying a household-name status formerly reserved for the Hollywood set. Their power to influence tech culture is unchallenged. Now, a new e-book is testing their pull in the lifestyle arena. It's called The Startup Chef, a cookbook filled with recipes from the likes of Fred Wilson, Tim Ferriss, Randi Zuckerberg, and many more.  

Created by Maya Baratz, a product executive at ABC News, and Hunter Walk, a longtime director of product management at Google, the project (released this week in e-book or PDF for a minimum donation of $10) is a lively romp through the gastronomic concoctions of tech's bold-faced names. All profits go to the anti-hunger charities No Kid Hungry, and the Rockaway Plate Lunch Project, which delivers meals to Hurricane Sandy victims.  

Granted, while culinary enthusiasts like Mullenweg may use the forum to flex their kitchen muscles, the question remains: can most of these people, well, cook? 

The answer appears to be yes—or at least they know enough to ask someone who can. Recipe offerings cover a range, with an emphasis on desserts ("coders like to bake," explains Mullenweg, "since you can control the variables") and spicy dishes. Highlights include “Eggnog Cinnamon Chip Scones” by Randi and Donna Zuckerberg (sisters of Mark), “Hot Chick Salad” by Mediabistro founder Laurel Touby, and a spicy Thai curry tilapia by media power-couple Jamie Shupak and Brian Stelter. (Lest you be unaware that the two are a couple, the alternate name of the dish is “Spicy Lovenest Tilapia.”) For those into hard-core tech and baked goods, there’s fare from Ethan Kurzweil, prominent tech VC and son of futurist extraordinaire Ray Kurzweil. Together with his wife, Rebecca Hanover, Ethan offers “Flourless (But Not Carb-less) Chocolate Cake.” (Apparently, the singularity cannot save us from carbs.)  

In candid introductions to each recipe, the contributors reveal their sources of inspiration. Keeping with the kid-in-a-hoodie image, some big names turned to none other than their moms for insight. Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley made no pretense, titling his recipe “Mom Crowley's Sausage Soup,” while Dave Gilboa, cofounder of Warby Parker, offered “Mormor's Swedish Pancakes.” Steve Martocci, founder of GroupMe, had to ask permission to publish his recipe for the Martocci family pasta sauce. 

Others reached into past life experience. Serial site-launcher and former New York Observer editor in chief Elizabeth Spiers offers “Steamed Sea Bass with Thai Chili Lime Sauce,” a dish she ate almost every day during a trip to Thailand. Cook it alongside Stelter and Shupak's dish, and your mouth will burn for days.  

If nothing else, the book will confirm just how small and interconnected the tech world is. Mullenweg happily reveals in the preface to his recipe that “I learned how to prepare eggs sousvide from Nathan Myhrvold,” former chief technology officer at Microsoft and cofounder of Intellectual Ventures.  

So is creating the perfect dish anything like creating the perfect tech product? Yes, says Baratz. “The creativity and innovation involved in crafting a good meal is similar to creating a great product. This book is a peek into the creative energy and sources of inspiration that help power the interesting leaders in our tech industry.” 

And for those who feel that women are chronically underrepresented in tech, nearly 50 percent of the recipes come from female entrepreneurs, VCs, and media figures. Granted, cooking still carries the stereotype of being a woman’s task, so perhaps it's impressive that so many men rushed to participate. Talk about changing the ratio in both directions.