A sweet, new website
Former pastry chef Dédé Wilson takes her baking expertise online
The idea for a website called “Bakepedia” came suddenly to Dédé Wilson on a foggy day in February 2011.
The former pastry chef is the author of 14 cookbooks. She had long been associated with national food brands, television programs and publications. Changes at “Bon Appétit” magazine, where she had worked for many years, were forcing her to rethink her career that winter.
“I was focusing on my personal brand,” she told me in a telephone interview just before Thanksgiving. “I realized I needed to do something with ‘dedewilson.com.’”
She brainstormed for a while about what she wanted to call the section of her website that shared baking tips and tricks.
“And then the word ‘Bakepedia’ popped into my head,” she recalled. “It was like something had physically hit my head.”
Wilson tried to find out whether the website “bakepedia.com” was available. Her home in Shutesbury has no high-speed Internet so after trying to connect briefly online, she picked up the telephone and called a domain-registry company.
“The URL was available,” she said. “So I registered it. The guy on the phone said to me, ‘You know, I’ve been registering URLs for eight years. I don’t remember the last time one seemed so ….’
“And I said, ‘Big?’” She laughed. “I told him, ‘I kind of feel like this was meant to be mine.’
“Within two days I realized, ‘I don’t know what Bakepedia is, but it has the potential to be big.’”
Having secured the domain, Wilson turned to other work and didn’t return to Bakepedia until early in 2012 when she decided that she needed to figure out what her new brainchild was going to do.
Through a technology group, from which she receives regular emails, she discovered Valley Venture Mentors in Springfield. This organization, which meets once a month, takes applications from would-be entrepreneurs who are looking for mentors.
“I went to this meeting,” Wilson remembered. “There were about 80 people there. It was so energizing. There was this roomful of people talking about ideas and how to implement them.”
She was accepted into the program and learned a lot from her mentors. They helped her define the market for her website — i.e., people who are looking for information about desserts and baking on the Internet.
“When I started doing research … I realized there is no leading baking and dessert site,” she explained. She discovered that 20 million people a month search for baking- and dessert-related recipes.
With her experience crafting precise, carefully tested recipes for the general public, she and her advisers came to believe that Wilson was the ideal person to help those searchers.
She knew she would need assistance and she sought out just the right people. Leo Sarian has helped her work out the overall look and content of Bakepedia. Wilson found Sarian on an online forum that she described as “kind of like a dating site for entrepreneurs.”
She was impressed with his business acumen and technological vision. He joined Bakepedia in the spring.
He was soon followed by two other professionals. Marketing director Kristen Ciccolini is wise in the ways of social media. Cookbook author Lauren Chattman augments the food-related content Wilson contributes to the site.
The team is posting content every day — recipes, tips for bakers, interviews with chefs and cookbook authors, definitions of culinary terms and product reviews. Bakepedia went up on the Internet in Beta form in August. By lated November, the site featured just over 300 entries. Wilson expects that number to continue to grow quickly.
She also expects to keep rolling out new features. Bakepedia gives readers the option to comment on recipes and feature articles. In the near future, users should be able to register as members, create profiles, follow other users and upload their own recipes to the site.
Bakepedia has a presence in Boston — an office in the Food Loft. This suite of offices is owned by Harvard Common Press, a publisher with which Wilson is affiliated. Wilson explained that the owner of the publishing house, Bruce Shaw, and his associates “have been at the forefront of the digital revolution in food.”
Shaw and his colleagues decided to share their rooftop loft in with food-related start-up companies “with the idea,” as Wilson put it, “that there would be synergy.” To date three companies, including Bakepedia, have headquarters there. The enterprises support each other and give advice as needed.
Wilson herself visits the Boston office but spends most of her time at home in Shutesbury because, as she ruefully puts it, “I’m chained to the stove.” She starts the day writing, takes her dogs for long walks in the late morning to brainstorm about new recipes, and then spends the afternoon in her test kitchen devising treats for Bakepedia.
I asked her how her enterprise differs from other baking websites. She identified three kinds of sites on the Internet related to food: product-related sites like that of King Arthur Flour; sites hosted by individual chefs and authors to provide their personal take on food; and “aggregators” — that is, sites like Allrecipes that collect recipes from many sources.
According to Wilson, the product-related sites are limited by their mission to promote their company’s products. The chef/author sites are limited by their personalities’ specialties. And the aggregators have no quality control.
Bakepedia’s motto is “helping bakers succeed.” Its founder hopes that it will help its visitors hone their culinary skills. Although she is only now beginning to round up financing for the venture (would-be investors are encouraged to contact her through the website), Wilson is pleased with her success so far.
“It’s real. It’s happening. It’s very exciting,” she told me. She doesn’t minimize the stress of trying to build something out of nothing. The work offers many rewards, however.
“There IS the benefit that I get to eat chocolate every day,” noted Wilson.