May 7, 2016

THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS QUALITY:

If You Are What You Eat, America Is Allrecipes : The nation's most popular recipe site reveals the enormous gap between foodie culture and what people actually cook. (Nicholas Hune-Brown, 5/06/16, Slate)

In 2009, Cook's Illustrated founder Christopher Kimball wrote a eulogy for Gourmet, the glossy Condé Nast magazine that was being shuttered after nearly seven decades. The publication had been a home for people who valued culinary expertise, wrote Kimball--a place with "respect for those who had earned the chops, as it were, who had a lifetime of good breeding and experience in order to stand at the cultural helm." In its place, Kimball saw a food culture overrun by "a million instant pundits" promoting slapdash, amateur fare. "Google 'broccoli casserole' and make the first recipe you find," he wrote. "I guarantee it will be disappointing."

The first Google result for broccoli casserole (at least when I checked the other week, though the algorithm seems to change daily) is a dish by a home cook named Stacy M. Polcyn. "Awesome Broccoli-Cheese Casserole" calls for one can of condensed cream of mushroom soup; one cup of mayonnaise; three packages of frozen broccoli; 8 ounces of cheddar cheese; an egg; a quarter cup of chopped onion; then salt, pepper, and paprika to taste. Mix everything together, bake at 350. The dish has been given hundreds of five-star ratings from people who leave comments suggesting tweaks ("I added 1 teaspoon garlic salt") and expressing their enthusiasm ("All I have to say is YUM!"). It is, of course, from Allrecipes.com.

In the world of online recipe aggregators, Allrecipes is distinctly unglamorous. While rival website Epicurious culls recipes from Bon Appétit and the now-defunct Gourmet, Allrecipes takes crowdsourced creations from home cooks and then writes them up in standardized form. In the era of the ornate food description, Allrecipes favors a house style shorn of ostentation. The site uses "stir" or "cook" instead of "sauté" ("because that's a French word," explains Esmee Williams, Allrecipes' vice president of consumer and brand strategy). Sugar cookies are "easy." Pancakes are "old fashioned." Many, many dishes are "creamy."

And at a time when readers of aspirational food websites are used to images of impossibly perfect dishes--each microgreen artfully placed by some tweezer-wielding stylist--Allrecipes offers amateur snaps of amateur meals. The site is awash with close-ups of sludgy-looking soups; photos of stuffed peppers that look like they've been captured in the harsh, unforgiving light of a public washroom; and shot after shot documenting the myriad ways that melted cheese can congeal. It is all, Kimball and his ilk would agree, extremely disappointing. It's also perhaps the most accurate, democratic snapshot of American culinary desires.

At the end of the day, someone has to eat what you make.  It ought to taste good.

The Kimball's of the world remind one of the scene in King of the Hill where A.E. Hotchner was reduced to eating pictures of food.

Posted by at May 7, 2016 9:17 AM

  

« MEET ME ON THE ST. LOUIS: | Main | HURRY ROBOTS: »