Cooking contests on Slate

DIY kitchen-offs

July 22, 2010

This past spring, Slate decided to stage a couple of DIY cookoffs. The contenders? Old-school food and media (chef Thomas Keller, print magazine Cook's Illustrated) versus new-school of the same (the blog The Pioneer Woman Cooks, the crowd-sourced cooking website Food52).

The first contest — a home-cookin' smackdown between überchef Keller’s new cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home, and megablogger Ree Drummond’s eponymous new cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks — was a simple cookoff in the home of author Jennifer Reese. Her conclusions? Drummond’s recipes relied on too many processed-food shortcuts, but the Reese family enjoyed the salty, greasy, sweet results. Keller’s recipes, on the other hand, were delicious, but daunting to execute, and the Reese family simply didn’t care:

Keller’s recipes were harder, but they were also, on the whole, better. A lot better. I’m not surprised by that. What surprises me is how little anyone — except me — cared. Apparently, when it comes to comfort food served around a kitchen table, good enough is good enough. What ultimately mattered about the fried chicken was not the seasoning but that there was fried chicken. A middling hot biscuit made with Crisco was as welcome as the perfect all-butter biscuit made with cake flour.

The second contest featured recipes for pork shoulder and sugar cookies, pulled from Cook’s Illustrated and Food52. Moderated by Sara Dickerman, the contest let readers cook each of the four recipes — two from classicist, our-recipes-are-scientifically-perfect Cook’s, two from the crowd-sourced mashup of Food52 — and then vote on their faves. As Dickerman wrote in her contest wrapup, the Cook’s recipes won, but barely, with Food52’s recipes coming in just a couple of votes behind Cook’s.

Cook’s Illustrated should celebrate its victory, but without being too namby-pamby, I hope both forms of recipe development (and Food52) continue to thrive. I agree with the Slate commenter who wrote, “I think that there is room in this world for both approaches. The scientist in me loves the CI approach; the people connection in the Food52 approach is valuable as well.”
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