Friday, August 19, 2005

Cook's Illustrated

I was interviewed the other day by the Online Journalism Review for the article Cook's Illustrated: Stirring up synergy to sell online food content . They asked my opinion about Cook's Illustrated and I gave it. And so the hate mail began. In the interest of clarity I will further explain my opinion of Cook's Illustrated. Because it is my opinion I fully expect not everyone will agree with it. I'm cool with that, but please, refrain from personal attacks.

1. I am not looking for the basics anymore. Not much anyway. I am more interested in recipes that will expand my culinary horizons. Cook's Illustrated doesn't do this. It's not really what they are trying to do. They don't claim to be gourmet or cutting edge and that's just fine for most people.

2. I am not alone in feeling they have an East Coast bias. Both the tastes of their tasters and the products they test are somewhat skewed towards the East Coast. Their Executive Editior even cops to this in the article. Nothing wrong with that, but it means it is less relevant to me.

3. Cook's Illustrated presents information as fact and science and their recipes as "the best". My philosophy towards cooking is more "art and skill". There are lots of variables with cooking and when you try to make it into science it doesn't always take those variables into account. I'm not convinced there is one "best" way to cook anything. Different variations work for different people with different ingredients and different kitchens. Recipes are opinions not absolutes.

4. I seek out specialty brands. Cook's Illustrated seeks to identify the best "supermarket" brands. For example I prefer some Italian brands of pasta not commonly found in supermarkets. This way of shopping does not work for Cook's Illustrated and their desire to reach the broadest audience possible.

So that's it. I don't hate Cook's Illustrated, it just doesn't appeal to me very much. I think it's an awfully good resource for people who agree with the recommendations they make. But in my experience, having tried a handful of recipes, they just didn't wow me.