Monday, July 28, 2008

Frothing: I never really liked these people that much anyway...

and now I really don't like them. The America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated/Cook's Country folks are getting a leetle too big for their britches, in my estimation. You can read the whole story here on Melissa's site.

The gist of the situation is that the PR rep for this group emailed a blogger who posted a version of a Cook's Kitchen potato salad she'd made. She changed several ingredients (four, actually) but credited Cook's Kitchen as the original source or inspiration. The PR woman (again, my opinion, although I am far from alone) was pretty snippy about the whole thing. We don't allow our recipes to be modified. They are tested up to a hundred times and they work. I read, "Your modifications to our recipes can't possibly improve them; they are the pinnacle of recipe perfection." Well, sorry, but they're not.

Melissa herself makes this point: they don't allow it. I would assert that once you publish a recipe, you're putting it out there for all to take a whack at. Granted, they can't republish your instructions word for word, but they sure can make your recipe and say, "Not bad, but you know, it needed more cumin. And maybe some ground coriander. And I bet if I added a little Old Bay seasoning it would make it interesting..." and they're off.

Recipes are a creative process. Part of the joy in food blogging is seeing what other people have done with a recipe. I myself had my eyes opened by food blogs in which people read magazines--magazines that I myself receive--and saw things I never saw in them. People taking what had been side dishes, or accompaniments, or even garnishes, and turning them into something amazing. And they credit those sources by saying "adapted from" or "based on the recipe in" and I myself see nothing wrong with this. Good lord, if it weren't for this kind of tinkering, we'd all still be cooking from Apicius or Escoffier. Or burning up slabs of dead buffalo in campfires.

Food is subjective. What tastes good to me may not taste good to you. The same goes for music, books, art, you name it. Melissa also publishes an excerpt from a Washington Post article from 2003 quoting Christopher Kimball (surely one of the ten silliest asses in America today, at least as he's characterized in this article) saying that changing one of their (ATC's that is) recipes is like saying you're going to play a Bach sonata but change the key. Surprise, Mr. Kimball, people do things like that all the time. Wander through a museum and watch a painter reproducing a great work on his or her own canvas. Read a book that's a pastiche of another work. Hell, watch The Lion King and ask yourself: who did it better? Shakespeare or Disney? You'll notice that The Lion King bears a striking resemblance to Hamlet (dead father, innocent son, evil uncle; they did miss out on the relationship between Hamlet's mother and his uncle--hey, this is a family movie, people).

And so, like so many other bloggers I say, back off, America's Test Kitchens. You didn't invent food. You didn't invent cooking. And in many cases, you didn't even take it to the heights of perfection that you so clearly think you did. I've made several recipes from your cookbook (the one that I own and now wish I could return; too late, I wrote in it a few years back...making notes on how to IMPROVE THE RECIPE, I might add!!) and then made other versions that I thought were better.

America's Test Kitchens is not God's gift to the culinary world. They need to stop acting as though they are.

And as my own small contribution to the nose-thumbing in the direction of ATC that's taking place all over the food blogging community, here's a link to my Chocolate Chip Scone recipe in which I reproduce the directions for the process word for word. If they demand that I do so, I will reword the instructions, but otherwise it stands as it is. Take that, ATC!

7 comments:

Kristen said...

I still am fuming about that too! Seriously...
I would love to hear their take on what an uproar it has caused in the food blogging community (and beyond, I'm sure.) I wonder if little miss PR lady still has a job.

TD said...

I'm sure she does, because she was following the mandate of the ATC empire. But I'll bet a lot of money that there are a great many food people who never want anything to do with that organization again. I know I'm sure one of them!!

Meg said...

Okay, wait. So they don't allow their recipes to be modified? In other words...they don't want me to use their recipes, or cookbooks, etc. because I am lactose intollerant AND, heaven forbid, vegetarian and I might want to...*gasp*...substitute something? What wackos!

The world revolves around substitutions in recipes! Take the humble potato salad for example! Good lord! The world is a better place for recipe substitutions! :P Thbbbbbbpt to them.

TD said...

Meg--I know! Sometimes a recipe uses an ingredient I just don't LIKE, thank you very much. I don't like feta cheese--I swap goat cheese for it. I don't like eggplant--I'll look at the recipe and see if I can do it with zucchini.

I think they're nuts too, and their heavy handed treatment of Melissa has ensured that I will never buy another of their cookbooks again (I already decided their magazines weren't for me).

Nik said...

I just ran across this post and find it very amusing. I was one of Cook's/ARC's home test cooks for a year. One of the recipes I tested was for gnocci and it just plain didn't work. I cooked it twice just to make sure. I was surprised to see them publish the recipe with no changes. I wasn't surprised though when I began reading posts by folks complaining the the recipe didn't work. ATC & Cook's have some great recipes and advice but I agree that they shouldn't act as if they were infallible.

Nik said...

I just ran across this post and find it very amusing. I was one of Cook's/ARC's home test cooks for a year. One of the recipes I tested was for gnocci and it just plain didn't work. I cooked it twice just to make sure. I was surprised to see them publish the recipe with no changes. I wasn't surprised though when I began reading posts by folks complaining the the recipe didn't work. ATC & Cook's have some great recipes and advice but I agree that they shouldn't act as if they were infallible.

TD said...

Hi Nik--very interesting! That must have been a fun job. Although at the same time I would think it might be frustrating, because I know I personally don't measure salt and things like that when I cook, so I'd be wanting to use my "just toss in a palmful" method, which probably wouldn't go over very well with them! :) Thanks for stopping by!