As a young boy, Eduardo Hernandez would often accompany his father deep into the forest to forage for mushrooms. Awaking before dawn, they’d follow a winding road to the base of a mountain and spend three or four hours combing the ground for native varieties: “quixmones,” “semites” and “xoritas.”
They’d return home, to their town in Mexico, with bags of these “small delights,” where Hernandez’s mom would be waiting, ready to make soup. Just boil 22 pounds of mushrooms with one-half onion, one tomato, one branch wormseed, one tablespoon butter, salt and water. “The smell of forest and wet earth flooded the home, taking us back to where we collected the mushrooms,” he remembers.
Hernandez’ family mushroom soup recipe is on page 89 of the latest version of the “Microsoft Cookbook,” a massive, coffee-table book that, like the others before it, is as much about the stories behind the recipes as it is about the recipes themselves.
“Everybody has a story, a memory with a smell,” says Hernandez, a vertical lead for Microsoft Information & Content Experiences in Mexico. “When someone shares that part of their life with other people, they feel connected.”
Now in its fourth year, the “Microsoft Cookbook” has won multiple Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Volume four focuses on health and wellness, while spotlighting Microsoft chefs who are helping employees do the same.
The newest volume of the cookbook is moving to a digital platform and will soon be available online on MSN Food & Drink and the MSN Food & Drink app, a significant development, explains cookbook cofounder Erica McCaig. “We receive recipes from around the world, but many of the people who submit could never see the cookbook,” she says. “This enables it to be shared.”
The cookbook is a labor of love for a small and passionate group of Microsoft employees who edit the submissions and publish the project in their off-time. For McCaig, and her husband Colin, the project was also the beginning of their domestic partnership.
Both started their careers at Microsoft in the Services Division. In 2010, they met during a cook-off to benefit Microsoft’s Employee Giving Program when inspiration struck: Why not write these recipes down? The first volume of the cookbook was born later that year. Erica and Colin were married two years later.
The “Microsoft Cookbook” also raises money for a good cause. All proceeds from sales benefit Seattle nonprofit FareStart, a culinary job training and placement program for homeless and disadvantaged individuals, and has raised more than $300,000 since the project began.
The cookbook team is partnering with FareStart to put on an annual gala event Jan. 24 that includes a silent and live auction, as well as dinner with Thierry Rautureau, owner of Seattle’s Loulay Kitchen & Bar and Luc restaurants, and known locally as the “Chef in the Hat.”
The digital version of the recipes also includes a call-to-action for readers to make a donation to FareStart.
“What I love about the cookbook is how it showcases diversity,” says Ilana Bergen, lead content strategist for the MSN Food & Drink. “There are recipes from different countries and different tastes around the world. It brings it all together to truly one Microsoft.”
While digitizing the cookbook will make it more available, it also makes it more scalable, explains Bergen. The online version includes nearly all of the 800 recipes that were submitted by employees worldwide. Only two-thirds of those made it into the hard-copy version.
The online cookbook also encourages people to get into the kitchen with features that help you add ingredients to your shopping list, and share recipes with friends and family.
“It’s not just a cookbook, it’s a storybook,” says Natasha Doyle, a senior operations project manager at Microsoft who’s worked on the cookbook since volume one. “Bringing that individual perspective onto the cookbook is important to us. It all goes back to the tenet of diversity.”
The “Microsoft Cookbook” has a signature look, one that’s shared by all four volumes. Instead of a recipe displaying a photograph of the finished product, each recipe highlights one ingredient, illustrated in a bold, giant fashion.
McCaig explains that the root of this approach was a practical one. “We didn’t have time to make every recipe and take a picture of it, so it came about naturally. We enjoyed the stark nature of the ingredient images and people responded well to it, so it became the look and feel.”
With its bold imagery and lively tales, the cookbook is for everyone, cooks and take-out types alike, says Liberty Munson, a principal psychometrician at Microsoft and cookbook team veteran. “Even if you don’t use the recipes, the cookbook tells a great story about Microsoft and the wonderful things we can do if we put our mind to it.”
What’s next for volume five?
“I love partnering with Bing and the MSN group,” McCaig says. “In a sense it’s like going green. I imagine we’ll move more toward mobile technology and continue to explore what we can do with the cloud.”
Images courtesy of Erica McCaig.