Today's New York Times contains an article entitled "For Orange Zest, Substitute Kool-Aid," by Celia Barbour, in which she writes about online recipe sites and the proliferation of readers' online comments and suggestions regarding specific recipes. These posts often offer twists on ingredients and/or methods from the originally posted recipe.
The following is quoted from this article:
"Gourmet has 8 test kitchens and 11 food editors,” said Zanne Stewart, media food editor at Gourmet magazine. “Even if we think a recipe is right the first time, we cross-test it. It’s likely to go through a bare minimum of four iterations, really refining it, before it’s written up and passed along to the cross-tester. Then everyone gathers around for the discussions. Is it right? Could it be better?”
So what does Ms. Stewart think of the endless tinkering that cooks boast about on the Web? “It makes me a bit sad, considering how much work went into the original,” she said." End quote.
I find the final comment by Ms. Stewart to be preposterous. For a food editor to believe for a moment that her magazine's recipe for a certain dish is the be-all and end-all of recipes is ludicrous.
As a culinary professional who has worked in the test kitchen of a well-regarded magazine, I am offended by these comments. Food editors and test kitchen staff are culinary educators in addition to being recipe developers. Cooking and gastronomy evolve and there are always lessons to be learned, as well as refinements and tweaks to be made. As a culinary educator, I am thrilled when my daughter, who's away at university, tells me what she's whipped up for dinner, sometimes without a recipe and often using a recipe that she's altered in some way.
Barbara Kafka has it right:
"Barbara Kafka, writer and editor of 13 cookbooks, including “Vegetable Love” (Artisan, 2005), applauds the improvisational impulse. “People should make recipes their own,” she said. “Only by doing that will they use them and enjoy them fully.”
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