Christopher Kimball has been quite a font of opinion lately, between writing that the Internet and its broccoli casserole recipes killed Gourmet, challenging the online community to a cook-off, and proclaiming that there is a wrong way and a right way to cook. Now, the Cook’s Illustrated editor is at it again: In a lengthy interview yesterday with Willamette Weekly, Kimball aired his thoughts on everything from Alice Waters (“Either you’re from Berkeley, or you’re not.”) to his Grateful Dead cover band (“we play at a pig roast we have every year in Vermont.”)
Less surprising than the fact that he’s “a major Deadhead” is that Kimball remains resolute in his feelings about wiki recipes. Even though he’s now working with Amanda Hesser’s Food52 on that online cook-off, he still felt at liberty to diss the website and others of its ilk:
“Well, I think you can do an encyclopedia that way. I don’t think you can do recipes. For example, we did a pie crust recipe a couple years ago and we used vodka…Well–no one’s gonna come up with that using the Internet. What you’re gonna get is someone saying, “I swapped all-purpose for cake flour,” or, “I changed the amount of liquid,” “I baked it in a different pan,” or “I used a different kind of chocolate.” What you’re not going to get is the, “Gee, I wonder if Wondra flour and cornstarch together will make crispy french fries?” That only comes through a lot of research and 50, 60 or 70 tests, and finally something pops up.”
While it’s a given that having the resources and controlled environment a test kitchen permits are invaluable assets in the innovation that lives at the core of the recipe testing process, Kimball’s suggestion that such innovation is lacking on the Internet occupies shakier ground. As anyone who’s ever wandered unwittingly into a gluten-free, vegan dessert recipe forum, or even caught a glimpse of something like Fancy Fast Food can attest, there’s plenty of experimentation and innovation to be found online. True, a lot of it isn’t successful, but then plenty of magazine-tested recipes have been known to come up lacking, too.
Kimball’s views are inherently biased — you can’t have a show called America’s Test Kitchens and maintain a believable degree of impartiality. But in a way, they’re also the kick in the pants that the online cooking community needs. Challenge encourages momentum, not to mention attention to a particular cause or agenda. And though Kimball’s comments about the website that’s agreed to host his cook-off betray a lack of tact, with any luck they’ll help inspire the wiki crowd to raise the bar — and prove him wrong.
On a completely unrelated note, anyone else notice the resemblance between Kimball and The Office‘s Dwight Schrute?
[Via Eat Me Daily]
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 22, 2009