When Allen Hemberger first had dinner at Alinea–a highly acclaimed restaurant that serves modernist cuisine–he was “blown away.” His natural curiosity was piqued and he wanted to know the secrets behind Alinea’s innovative cooking methods. So when he later received the Alinea cookbook as a gift, he dove into it. Allen’s original intent was just to experiment with some of Alinea’s powders and other odd ingredients. But his curiosity was insatiable and 5 years later, he’d completed every recipe in the entire cookbook, documenting the journey on his blog. With that complete, his next endeavor is to turn the Alinea Project into a book. His curiosity has found a new outlet in the book-making process, and Allen is determined to learn all he can about what it takes to make a finely printed photography book. We asked him some questions about why he’s choosing to self-publish and what he’s learned thus far. Here’s what he said.

“How are real books made?”

I’ve used services like Blurb before to make little photo albums, but have always been disappointed in the quality and the lack of control. I wondered, “Well, how are ‘real’ books made?” I started poking around, trying to find clues. I remembered that the Modernist Cuisine books were self-published and that they had a really nice copyright page with more information than most about how their books are made. When I checked that page, I found iocolor listed, so I shot an email asking if it’s possible for an average Joe like me to have a book made using services like those [iocolor] offers. I learned it’s not really cost-effective to just print a single copy of a book using the kind of pipeline iocolor uses. If I were going to make one book, I might as well make several hundred. Doing this would mean I’d need to either pay for all of them myself or see if there was interest out in the world for a book like this. I read about going to a publisher, but liked the approach of doing it all myself more. I like learning and understanding how things work, so I’ve found self-publishing to be a really rich experience.

“Here’s one of the most helpful things I’ve learned so far”:

My past experience with printing always involved some sort of “translation” guesswork. Basically, trying to anticipate how my photos will change when they’re printed and preempting those changes by mucking around with colors and sharpness. I was asking iocolor’s Gary Hawkey all these questions about how to do this, and he finally said, “our job is to make sure your images look on paper the way they look on screen. Your job is to make them look good on screen.” He encouraged me not to worry about all that preemptive adjustment stuff, and instead just let iocolor do its thing. It was the most sensible thing anyone’s ever said to me about printing.

Allen and his wife and designer, Sarah, have big plans for the Alinea Project.

Everything about Alinea itself is SO opulent, polished, and precise. I think, given the subject matter, this book should have as many of the same qualities as possible. I want the paper to feel thick and luxurious; I want the book to have a satisfying heft; I want the cover to be tactile and interesting. Sarah is fussing over all the little details of the design, and I’m fussing over the photos and writing. I’m hoping all this attention to detail will yield something that’s at least in the ballpark of the picture I have in my head.

We’ve loved working with Allen–talking about the book-making process and hearing his big dreams for his own book. The Kickstarter to fund the Alinea Project was an overwhelming success, earning far above what Allen had hoped. We can’t wait to see the final product. It’s sure to be as imaginative as Allen is.