October 13, 2009

Ship of Fools

Intel "Rockstar" from Crystal English on Vimeo.

In my foodie world, Christopher Kimball is like a rock star. The bow tie is hot; the food snobbery, condescension, and choosiness about ingredients is attractive. He's the editor and founder of Cook's Illustrated and the host of America's Test Kitchen. Cook's has been a go-to recipe source of mine for awhile now. Their recipes are almost always perfect in terms of flavor, technique, etc. I feel comfortable making their recipes for dinner parties without a dry run, because they rarely give me any trouble.

Kimball wrote an Op-Ed article inspired by the closing of Gourmet magazine. He lamented the shift of loyalty away from experienced, credentialed chefs and towards untrained cooks and the democracy of the Internet, read food blogs. My favorite quote from Kimball's piece is: "The world needs fewer opinions and more thoughtful expertise." He talked of food media specifically, but it's the same issue for all of them - radio, television, publishers, recording industry - and it's a similar problem in libraries and academia as well: Why would you want to pay for anything when you can find what you want online for free? Why would you want something that requires more effort than a Google search?

So I set out to write a ditto blog post, complete with passion and exclamation points, railing against "the democracy of the Internet." I was prepared to support all of Kimball's assertions.

And then I started writing.

Duh, I'm completely guilty of succumbing to the democracy of the Internet, where content is free and conveniently accessible. I don't have cable or even local television channels these days, because I usually just check YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix for whatever I want. They've got Matlock. Purchasing music? Why would I want to do that? There are more free radio stations and free sample downloads than I could ever listen to. Magazines and newspapers - a complete waste of money if I can get their content online for free. Most products of the mass media are complete drivel anyway, but it's also a factor of my pretentiousness to isolate myself from all of it.

I didn't read Gourmet. Any Gourmet recipes I've made came from the free site Epicurious. My mom has a few cooking magazines at her house, and I've never looked at a single one of them and thought it was something I'd want to subscribe to. I don't buy cookbooks. When I need a recipe, I always search food blogs, Epicurious, and yes, the Food Network site. You can bet I'm right there reading all of the comments and reviews written by inexperienced anonyms.

What was I going to rail against? I'm part of the problem.

Now that doesn't mean that I don't still use a LOT of Cook's recipes. Kimball followed up his Op-Ed with a post on his blog titled Ship of Fools? and I agree with his statement (down in the comments section) "I have had hundreds of people tell me over the years that the one thing that Cook’s has done for them is to build their confidence — they realized that they were not lousy cooks, they were just using lousy recipes." I have said many times that being a great cook doesn't take that much skill or innate talent, you only need start with a good recipe. Going through the process of cooking through dozens of Cook's recipes, with their precise instructions, helped me build a knowledge base of the fundamentals of cooking.

And yet, Adam Roberts of Amateur Gourmet made a good point when he tweeted "Chris Kimball, your recipes might work, but your magazine is the dullest, most brain-numbing one around. Blogs r better." (His more gramatically correct opinion is here.)

What do you think?


Auntie said...

Now that's fascinating...you see Chris Kimball as a Rock Star? Oh. I see a wimpy little poindexter.

I give him credit, though, for realizing that if expertise is dispensed for free, it rapidly becomes worthless.

To follow on last's week's post, convenience ultimately destroys culture. Auntie chooses to side with Civilization.

This theme is best expressed in DIGITAL BARBARISM by Mark Helprin. If Auntie had to name a Rock Star, I'd pick him.

Therefore, I will happily renew my web subscription to CI, and I do so in the hope that you and Dear Daughter keep using it to bring forth good food into this world.

For free ;)

Porter said...

For free.... for me....

Kimberly said...

Auntie, I agree with your convenience destroys culture comment. As with the music industry, even though digital music is inferior in tone and depth, CDs, mp3s, and Net streaming are more convenient, so that's what we get. Music will be produced/distributed in the cheapest, most-convenient form, but we've become accustomed to lower quality. (And that's just the sound; think about most of the music itself.)

Am I the only person who thinks CI's website redesigns keep making it less and less usable?

Poor Porter - my going to the singles' ward isn't very conducive to cooking Sunday dinner for the family. We'll have to fix that somehow.