Wiki vs Test Kitchen Recipe Challenge

The current rage is the WIKI recipe notion — a community of on-line foodies who can select and tweak recipes to come up with the best possible version. Then there is the opposite contention — I think that only a professional test kitchen with substantial resources, strict testing protocol, and lots of time can develop the very “best” recipes, all things being equal. So, I am willing to put my money, and my reputation, where my big mouth is. I offer a challenge to any supporter of the WIKI or similar concept to jump in and go head to head with our test kitchen. We will jointly agree on a recipe, on the rules, on a time frame, etc. At the end, we will ask a panel of impartial judges to make and test the recipes and declare a winner. Should be fun! Who is interested?

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Published in: on October 15, 2009 at 5:54 pm  Comments (107)  

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  1. I love this challenge! As a test kitchen worker, I am anxious to see what recipe you select for testing, the processes that are followed by both parties, and the final outcome. Good luck!

  2. I can’t wait to read and see the results!

  3. Chris.

    I love the concept… (like when Bill Cosby used to yell, “CHALLENGE!”… show me what you got…)

    But I want you to hear something… You and the “new media”-types are not so much at odds as you think. I believe that you at Cooks’ are one of the winners in the new world because your competence is deep and apparent, your writing incredibly useful.

    The loser here is the “annointed”. Sure, some of the folks who wrote for Gourmet (or a newspaper, or whatever) were great and accomplished. But other weren’t… they were simply placed on that pedestal.

    You (collectively) have proven your worth by producing so much useful content… to the point that people pay for it. Smitten Kitchen has proven her worth by drawing her own crowd… She didn’t have to be “chosen” by an editor. That, I think, is the beauty of the new world. We, the reader, get to do the annointing, and so we’re obligated to become curators of the best information.

    So, sure, compete. If I were to bet on the event, I suspect you’d win. Your process, the testing, etc, is brilliant and you’re great at it. Now, if you invited a third competitor, say, Rachel Ray, I suspect the WIKI would avoid last place…

    Thanks.

    • Yes, good point. Everyone has to earn their way in the food world. Rachel, however, is really in the world of entertainment, a world in which she is terrifically talented, like it or not. I suppose, being older, I still have a fondness for the old system of all-powerful editors who brought the world to our door. The ones who did a great job of this were a great boon to the culture — those that weren’t, and there were many, were pretty much a waste of good money.

      • See, this is what’s totally awesome about this “new world” is that you’re so accessible. Had I disagreed with something in Gourmet, I might have penned a letter and never heard a thing (or perhaps months later). Here today, we’re having a discussion on it the same day. Much appreciated.

  4. While I sympathize with the spirit of doing a recipe challenge – I don’t think that it will prove anything. All that it will do is add one more “decibel” to the din of the social networking “black whole”. I hate to see the test kitchen get sucked into this nonsense.

    Nothing will be decided one way or the other. Each side will choose the “facts” it wants to believe. These days one either subscribes to the power of groupthink and the lowest common denominator – where good enough is – good enough – or to the (often just as blind) power of experience. Only time and history will tell us how this will end – but it certainly will not be what any of us expect right now.

    • True enough — nobody knows how this will all turn out and this would not be the first time I have been wrong BUT it still might be good fun along the way.

      • Why does it have to “prove” anything? Why does there have to be a winner and a loser? I’ve always understood the “best” recipe of Cook’s Illustrated to be a bit tongue in cheek. That is part of what is so brilliant about the TV show using Kimball as a foil for the taste tastings. He doesn’t always agree with the consensus. The implication is clear: you might not either. The best recipe is hugely subjective.

        I hope someone takes up the challenge – not because it will prove Kimball right or wrong but because it will be fun and we might learn something along the way.

        One final thing, give Rachel her due. She is immensely talented and hurting no one. She has introduced all sorts of ingredients and tastes to America and removed some of cooking’s intimidation factor. And Mr. Kimball, I mean this with no disrespect, because I am subscriber, slavish devotee, and have seen every episode of both your PBS shows, but you also happen to be in the world of entertainment. You entertain me on a regular basis.

      • I LOVE Rachel. Why? She has introduced millions of folks to home cooking who would not have otherwise been interested. Some of them then discover what we do and what others do. Great. And, yes, all TV shows have to entertain as well. If you saw the stuff that we CAN’T show on public television (the outtakes) you would see a much more entertaining side to the test kitchen. As for subjectivity, I say once again, cooking as well as music, dance, etc. is based on a bedrock of knowledge and experience and is entirely objective in nature. Once one grasps those basics, then, sure, there is plenty of subjectivity and personal preference but a bad Beef Stew is a bad beef stew — everyone can agree on that.

  5. I absolutely love it! I have been a fan for YEARs!
    Keep us updated. I think I want to challenge you… I’ll get back to you on that. :)
    Madilyn

  6. I accept the challenge – let me know how to participate!

  7. personally what I would like is the expertise to look at all the variations presented to the wiki audience and know what effects each of the variations will have.

    I have done a lot of experiments with cookies and cakes, a little more sugar here, a little more flour there, an extra egg etc. to see what the differences are. I kind of wish that cook’s illustrated would work more along those lines than trying to be the definitive ‘this is the perfect way…’ I have taken great exception to some of the dictatorial pronouncements of the test kitchen, based simply on a disagreement of what the final expectation should be. (a recent article on cooking lamb springs to mind… if you want lamb to taste like beef, why the hell are you cooking lamb???)

    I admire the test kitchen publications, and look to many of them for good advice. I just can’t stand being told that my preferred method (arrived at by similar extensive experimentation,) is “wrong.”

    frequently I find much of the descriptive article to be of more use than the final recipe, as I can use the references to “don’t do that because it will end up like…” to actually end up that way. out of preference.

    I suspect that the end result is that the wikified recipe will be good but bland.

    cheers,

  8. [...] Here is the original post: Wiki vs Test Kitchen Recipe Challenge « Christopher Kimball Blog [...]

  9. I took up your original challenge from the op-ed piece in the Times and blogged about it on my site. You were mainly right but the obvious straw man is the insistence that we blindly use the first Google result. I’m intrigued by this more refined challenge.

    Also, my strongest conclusion was that broccoli casserole is pretty hideous no matter how good your recipe is. My suggestion for a more suitable dish: beef bourguignon. Simple yet also complex and highly topical.

  10. Let me make your challenge fair: Each team produces 1000 recipes.

    I don’t expect to find a recipe at a wiki site that’s comparable to what I could pull out of a Thomas Keller cookbook. I’m looking for a data point that I can consider with other online amateur sources and also professional cookbooks and magazines.

    That being said, wikis are just a tool and could easily be used in an environment where they would produce professional quality recipes. Just install a wiki on your magazines website. The editors could use promising suggestions as starting points for experimentation and prune as much of the worthless junk as they want.

    • Sure, a WIKI community would be interesting, useful, and entertaining and some good suggestions would come out of it. However, a test kitchen with professional cooks is more likely to turn out a more foolproof, dependable version of a particular recipe than a large community. The whole point of a test kitchen is NOT simply to opine on taste, texture, or even method it is to understand and the deepest level what is likely to go wrong with a recipe in a home kitchen. That is a totally different process than saying, “Gee, I think this would taste better with fennel.” If, for example, a recipe calls for Top Blade and someone buys Top Sirloin, it will make a difference. What we try to do, and don';t always succeed, is to investigate how and why recipes go bad and try to make them more dependable. The issue of taste and texture is just part of the process. This is where a community is unlikely to be of great help.

  11. Why not do this with a set of recipes that way people can participate on the ones they feel most comfortable with? Also, more comparisons will give you more data points.

    Personally I agree with Tim, but I still would like to take up the challenge :-)

  12. [...] October 15, 2009 · Leave a Comment Cook’s Illustrated editor Chris Kimball has thrown down the gauntlet! [...]

  13. [...] Old Versus New Media: Food Writer Edition Cook’s Illustrated editor Chris Kimball has thrown down the gauntlet! [...]

  14. I am not sure a challenge is really warranted, but I do think it’d be interesting. I think one of the main points that is being missed in these little debates is that test kitchens and most amateur-run (or enthusiast-run) should really serve different purposes. Where the web really excels is with providing inspiration. The vast assortment of sites and recipes helps the searcher find endless suggestions for variations. The Internet, unlike a magazine, can instantly give you ideas about what to cook if you have three arbitrary ingredients you really need to use in your meal tonight. No, the results won’t always be good. But how is the enthusiastic home cook supposed to learn to identify what has the potential to be really great if he or she hasn’t suffered through a number of meals bad enough to warrant ordering take-out? If you like to cook and try new things or to learn what flavors might work together, the Internet is a great resource.

    But the online community is often unreliable and a poor source if what you are interested in learning is technique or if you want to master a classic recipe to impress your family. For that, you need test kitchens. You need professionals. If you want to understand why some foods go well together, or why eggs have so many different preparations, or what to do if your greens are too bitter, you’re generally better off trusting the professionals. Very few people would use the Internet as their only source when preparing Thanksgiving dinner for their families for the first time. If you’re interested in authenticity, you generally need the experts. The Test Kitchen, Food and Wine, and others may have to change how they generate revenues, but there will always be a place for them.

    Cooking a turbaconducken for your roommates? Go to the web. Preparing a crown roast for Christmas dinner for your grandmother? Ask the test kitchens of professionals.

  15. Mr. Kimball,

    Let me start by saying I’m a fan of your work and flattered by this post! Clearly my site, Foodista.com, is one of the Wiki recipe sites you are referring to. You and I were both quoted in recent articles in the New York Times and TIME Magazine. Before we agree on the challenge rules, I’m going to have to think about the structure a bit. This is largely because you call for it to be a comparison with “all things being equal.” In truth, I worry about how to make that possible. You have been developing your approach for over sixteen years, whereas we launched a mere ten months ago. When Wikipedia launched in 2001, it had a few hundred short articles. Eight years later, it has 3 million articles, generally much longer and with great accuracy. So, a comparison of Wikipedia to Encyclopedia Britannica in 2001 vs. 2009 would look very different. However, we are not Wikipedia and there are some important differences, especially in how we organize information.

    All of that said, I truly believe in mass-collaborative editing. So, I accept the challenge and will get thinking about the recipe, rules, etc.!

    Please email me to discuss the particulars…especially the “money” part :-).

    Cheers,

    Barnaby Dorfman
    Founder and CEO
    Foodista.com

  16. I can’t wait to see how this unfolds! I will definitely be watching. Who do you think will join in? Definitely Food 52, but it will be interesting to see who else. Great challenge.
    I would love for you to post indepth about the testing protocol in your professional testing kitchens. I get both mags, and the recipes are absolutely great, so maybe share a little more detail about the methods both CI/CC employ.

  17. Rather than a Wiki, perhaps you can get Google to sponsor the challenge as a means to showcase their “Wave” collaboration system. The would still meet your goal of seeing how well an online community can collaborate and whether it can be competitive.

  18. I have been investing since the internet boom in the late 90’s. Back then, making money in the stock market was as easy as throwing a dart on the Sunday paper’s stock listings and buying the stock that the dart hit. Since then, there has been one bull market and two bear markets. The last one ending in early 2009. Online stock trading has seen a big increase in users in the last 10 years. But how does one start?

    Generally, there are three things to know before trading stocks online. First, you have to research the market to find a good company. Second, you have to know when to sell. And lastly, you have to know where you will be placing your trades. Finding a cheap online stock trading website is not that simple.

    As you begin looking for companies to buy, you should use Yahoo Finance as a good source of education and research. If you do not know the terminology of the stock market, you can find a lot of answers these days on the internet. Read, read, read. Get a Wall Street Journal or find a good investing book at your local library. You will need to educate yourself before you buy your first stock. Do not try to learn on the fly. It will be like gambling away your money. Some internet stock brokers will offer some educational material as well.

    Next, before you buy, you need to tell yourself when to sell. I say this because it is too easy for someone to get “caught up” in the moment. As they see their stock go up, investors tend to hold on to it too long. If you are trading to make short term profits, you need to be consistent with when you will sell. On the flip side, you also need to know when to get out of a bad investment. This is where online stock trading gets scary. Tell yourself when you will sell it and stick to your guns. You will tend to make more money and not lose too much.

    Last, but certainly not least, is finding a good online broker. When you are looking for a good site to place your trades with, you need to check three major things. 1. What are the costs of the trades? 2. What kind of research or advice does the site provide? 3. How good is the customer service and support? As you will see, some companies have a better reputation than others. Do not get fooled by the “zero” trade fee. Sometimes there are more fees, or hidden fees, involved than the regular trading fee. Go through each of the sites and narrow them down to your top three. Find out the pros and cons of each site before picking one because once you start, it is not fun to switch. Online stock trading with the right company will make your life easy and make you money. http://www.fiu.edu/~its/wwwboard/messages/1310.htm use for free. You will no longer be tied down to only the investments your broker makes. (Often, these suggestions are the ones that will pay him or her the biggest commission.)

    http://www.fiu.edu/~its/wwwboard/messages/1310.htm

    http://www.fiu.edu/~its/wwwboard/messages/1309.htm

    http://www.fiu.edu/~its/wwwboard/messages/1302.htm

    other search terms include: online stock trading, real estate mutual funds,reit,reit investing, top reit funds,top real estate mutual funds, best real estate stock funds

  19. You know who may be a good challenger, Eric, from Gardenfork! He seems to be a big fan of ‘let’s change up the recipe a bit’ cooking, and also seems to enjoy incorporating opinions from friends/neighbors. I’ve also heard him talk a bit of smack about Cook’s Illustrated and its precision ; ) The Gardenfork video podcast is one of the favorites on itunes, check it out and then challenge him to a duel!!! (He talks a little smack about the Cook’s Illustrated mashed potatoes in the ‘mashed potatoes taste test’ episode). I’m a big fan of both of these ‘houses’, and would love to see a showdown!

  20. I don’t know what to think based upon your “Should be fun!” attitude in your original post, contrasted with the tone of your recent comment. You said – “This is where a community is unlikely to be of great help.”

    Give us some credit. I am quite frankly shocked by this comment — as a loyal reader of Cook’s Illustrated, you and your team have taught us TO care and pay attention to things beyond our own simple taste preference. We know the difference between top blade and top sirloin, thanks to you. Why would you want to insult our intelligence or enthusiasm for participating in the process — see this as a teaching moment, not a threat or opportunity to look down upon us and discount our intelligence.

    The battle over the credibility of Wikipedia has been raging in educational circles since its inception. You may have heard about the Nature study that found Wikipedia to be just as accurate/reliable as Encyclopedia Britannica. Of course this is debated as well, but that is not the point. Embrace the wisdom of crowds, not blindly, or as “fact”, or as a threat, but as an opportunity for collaboration.

  21. In troubled times like these. There are sacrifices that must be made by selfless few. Thereby, it is after a period great self-reflection and soul searching and a deep desire to do good that I, Neil, humbly offer my pretty decent ability in following recipes and instructions for the challenge.

    Seriously, this does sound like a cool idea. Of course there comes the question of how are you going to verify successful recipe completion and taste testing.

  22. Well, this just got a whole lot more interesting.

    I would absolutely love to participate in this challenge, but the entire social networking aspect of it prevents me from being able to accept on the spot.

    You see, through the magic of Twitter, I have access to a whole world of culinary professionals. I dare say that even if I didn’t even know how to boil water, you could issue a challenge for a dish that’s relatively complex and I’d still be able to turn out a competition-worthy preparation, just by consulting with my trusted sources on Twitter. My Twitter circle includes local restaurant chefs, people who make their own bacon, professional bakers, celebrity and non-celebrity chefs, cookbook authors and editors, and people who just want to cook and eat well in their own kitchens.

    What you have in your test kitchen, Mr. Kimball, is an arsenal of experienced staff members with the best and widest array of resources. They adhere to a scientific method of evaluating recipes and, to you and the magazine’s credit, these recipes indeed avoid every imaginable pitfall because of that method. But while I happily turn to my Best Recipes cookbook for the absolute definition of a perfect lasagna or roast chicken, it will never be my first pick for recipes that turn out to be better than intended because someone did the unexpected.

    So, provided I can generate interest in participation, I would gladly accept the challenge.

    Derek
    The Best Food Blog Ever

  23. Ready, Set, Go!

  24. I will take you up on this challenge and one-up you. I will convert whatever this rcipe is to be gluten free. I am a one-person outfit: the Gluten-Free Organic Chemist Culinarian. I am trained in the scientific methodology of design of experiments (DOX). My expertise is in formulation, organic synthesis, and material science with a killer precise palette. I have my BS in Organic Chemistry & my Culinary Arts Certification. I am always looking for a challenge. Please contact me!

    P.S. – Do not underestimate your reader community. You have no idea what their background or what their expertise truly looks like. Bring it on!!!!

  25. So while I applaud the idea behind the challenge, your response to many of these comments turns me off greatly. Here’s the thing – balance is OK. I like and use BOTH Cooks Illustrated and blog recipes, along with cookbooks and other resources. CI is an incredible learning tool for a semi-novice like myself. The website is my first stop when I’m trying something new for me. But sometimes, the story of the pictures of a blogger’s post just inspires you and you just HAVE to fix it. To completely discard the validity of this side of the cooking world is incredibly close-minded.

    • Oh, come on! Let’s have some fun with this — this is not either/or. The most likely result is that I am going to learn a lot about internet based community recipes and bloggers and they, perhaps, will learn more about what we do. I do like to incite riots, I admit, but isn’t that pretty much the coin of the realm in this new media age? We are not debating Afghanistan!

  26. Many of “us” (bloggers and blog readers) find this process, yes, entertaining and fun. However, entertaining it may be its growth and popularity is undeniable. Many folks rely on it for a reference, may I say, no more library visits. Its a learning tool as well, however You may view it. Of course it is your livelihood. So with the recent “shutting down” of Gourmet. Where does that leave all those loose ends? Many of us with our last issue in hand as we reverently read through each page will be looking to fill the void, or not. Is it coincidence that you would invite this community to a challenge, a test, if you will, to examine your forum as a possible alternative to the void left behind by Gourmet’s demise? Whatever, it may be. I definitely think it is a very smart move on your part. I for one will pay attention where before I was a little put off by having to pay to subscribe to your website. Really? Well, be that as it may. Let the games begin. I will be watching as I’m sure many former Gourmet readers and your loyal patrons as well. I think I get it. Twitter if you will.

    • No, this was no land grab — Cook’s and Gourmet had little in common. If you miss Gourmet, as I do, then you aren’t going to feel better by reading test kitchen prose with no color photographs. My beef was with those who view the internet as the Second Coming. The web is neither good nor bad — it is simply a tool. I just want to make sure that we don’t lose a discerning public and the notion of thoughtful, opinion and advice based on real world experience. That can come from a test kitchen, a blog, a Tweet, or your neighbor next door. But, that being said, the Internet is full of recipes, most of which are not worth what you pay for them, which is nothing! The question is how to harness the power of the Internet to get more people into the kitchen, cooking better food. I am quite sure that I have absolutely no idea what the answer is to that question.

  27. Didn’t you call out Amanda last night specifically?

  28. [...] Foodista has recently been covered in both the New York Times and TIME Magazine. I was quoted, and to provide a counterpoint, so was Christopher Kimball of Cook’s Illustrated. Between these two articles, Condé Nast announced that they were shutting down Gourmet, and in response Mr. Kimball wrote thisOp-Ed piece in the New York Times. Let me start by saying that I have deep respect for Mr. Kimball and what he has built, but I also disagree with his assessment of the Internet, Wikis, and how it all works. I was thinking about a writing a response to the Op-Ed, and then earlier today noticed that Mr. Kimball issued the following challenge on his blog: [...]

  29. Interesting that others are commenting on free discussion…

    You can keep deleting comments all you want, but we both know that yesterday you publicly called out Amanda Hesser and today you deleted that reference and then deleted an earlier comment asking if you deleted that reference. What gives?

    • Have already emailed back and forth with Amanda and we are trying to set up something. She seems a good sport and hope to figure out how to proceed soon. Thanks.

      • While Amanda Hesser’s project is an interesting experiment in crowd-sourcing recipes, it is not a Wiki. So, I hope to hear from you soon so we can truly test your hypothesis.

  30. Fair enough. It wasn’t moderated yet. (Didn’t realize they had to be moderated.) My sincere apologies.

  31. Can’t wait!

  32. [...] was related to the groundswell of (inferior) content on the internet.  He also just threw down a challenge on his blog that proposes pitting a recipe developed in the test kitchen to a recipe developed [...]

  33. Dear Mr. Kimball,

    I’ve been a subscriber, and before that a buyer, of Cook’s and then Cook’s Country since the mid 90’s. I’ve always found it entertaining, but to tell you the truth, the recipes I’ve made from it haven’t always been that great, and sometimes the opinions of your tasting panels leave me shaking my head in disbelief. Ronzoni pasta is better than Barilla? Artificial vanilla flavoring is just as good as Penzey’s double strength vanilla? Am I actually paying someone to tell me these things?

    I am of the firm belief that taste is entirely subjective, and what appeals to your experts, who grew up eating different things than I did and have different ideas about what tastes good, may not appeal to me. For instance, I would NEVER use a canned stock, which your recipes frequently include, under any circumstances whatsoever. Not only do I find the taste objectionable, the thought of what is in canned stock and how it is made scares me. I would never knowingly ingest it. Nor would I ever purchase artificial vanilla flavoring, for that matter.

    I thought your editorial in the New York Times was seriously offensive and just wrong headed. What killed Gourmet Magazine was not the writing of amateur bloggers, it was the combination of poor editing and lack of advertising revenue. Gourmet had morphed over the years into something I hardly recognized anymore. I still subscribed to it, mostly out of loyalty to Ruth Reichl, whom I would support regardless, out of sheer admiration and affection. I think she is one of the best food writers in the pantheon. But I sorely missed the old Gourmet, which was not overrun by advertisements nor tons of pointless photographs of beautiful people, and was densely packed with thoughtful, interesting prose by admirable writers. When asked on a “Serious Eats” poll which magazine I’d pick if I could have only one, I instantly responded “Saveur” — because it’s so much like the old Gourmet. And speaking of Serious Eats, I believe you offended Ed Levine, who is now a highly successful blogger. As I hope you know, before he launched his website, he had amassed quite an impressive resume as a writer in print.

    Three are thousands and thousands of food blogs in cyberspace, but only a handful of really good ones, and I believe that those are the ones people read regularly. For you to insist that people should only be cooking from recipes that are vetted by committee, a relatively new concept, instead of casually sharing them with each other, which has been done since the advent of fire, is just strange. Have you ever looked at a recipe someone has shared with you and thought, hey, that might work really well with a few changes? Of course you have, but you don’t seem to trust anyone else to be able to do that. To insist that cooking be this formal, hallowed activity when so few people cook anymore anyway, to the point that our physical and mental health as a nation is suffering greatly as a result, is not helping.

    Your Times editorial annoyed me so much I’m seriously considering allowing my Cook’s subscriptions lapse. Who do you think you are, to believe that you have the ultimate word on what is correct on a subject that is strictly governed by individual preference? You’re becoming megalomaniacal in your success. The world is not black and white and the world of food certainly is up for endless interpretation.

    Sincerely,

    Loren Shlaes

    • I admit to being surprised by the strong visceral reactions of a few folks like you. Are you seriously that angry about a debate regarding the demise of Gourmet or the relative merits of community vs test kitchen recipes! Seems a tad hot under the collar but, it is true, I started the fight so I have nobody to blame but myself. Let me answer your points one by one.
      1) I just did yet another tasting of artificial vanilla and actually PREFERRED it to the real stuff. Why? Real vanilla has to have 35% alcohol by law; the artificial stuff has no such regulations. As a result, it tastes less boozy albeit slightly less interesting. However, in baked goods — cookies for example — you would never know. You assume you are correct — after all, how could an artificial product be virtually indistinguishable from the real thing? — but you have not done the blind taste test. (Here’s an invite — come to our office in Boston and take the test!) My point is that you assume you are right. We don’t assume anything and often end up with seemingly silly conclusions like this one. I am wrong about this stuff almost every day — that is how one learns.
      2) This whole issue of objective/subjective is absurd. If you know nothing about music, can you sit down at a piano and play Bach? If you know nothing about cooking, can you go into the kitchen and cook good food consistently? Of course not. Cooking, however, is highly creative once one has a foundation. This is like playing golf (something I did briefly 25 years ago). If you can’t hit the ball straight, there is no creativity involved. So, sure, with some training under one’s belt, cooking becomes much more fun and more creative. This is what chefs do. But chefs have training.
      3) I don’t really disagree with your points about Gourmet. My point in the editorial was simply that the world has changed and that today’s editors need to be quite different than they were in the past. I was not saying that the internet shot Gourmet in the head from behind. Sure, there is great stuff on the internet but I do believe, and you agree, that this content needs editing and aggregating — the raw feed is pretty useless.
      4) Your final source of irritation is that I am setting myself up as the only and last arbiter of good taste and good recipes. Well, for purposes of inciting debate (and, riot, as well) I do like to play that role but my point is actually quite different. My deeply held belief is that cooking, like all worthwhile activities, is based on study and principles which have to be learned. A test kitchen that seeks to understand why recipes fail and to make them more foolproof is a particularly good way at arriving at a very useful end product. There are other ways to get there but for someone just getting started in the kitchen, we do provide a useful service — we offer a group of dependable recipes. That being said, lots of other cookbook authors/chefs/food writers have a lot to contribute as well. Fine. But trying to sort out which Apple Crisp recipe off the internet is going to work the best is not the ideal route for someone who is trying to put dinner on the table in 90 minutes. I am not reaching for the stars, just for dependability. Seems fair to me. There is a great deal in cooking that is, in fact, black and white. Collagen doesn’t melt until it reaches 200 degrees. Bread dough should double not triple. There is a right and wrong way to fold in egg whites. Top Round and Top Blade are very different cuts. But, you may not like cinnamon in your oatmeal cookies and I might. There are rules and there are also preferences — the two go hand in hand. So don’t throw out the objective because you think it belittles individual preference and character — the first question Julia Child always asked was “Where did you train?” I hesitate to speak for her, but it is fair to say that she would have had little sympathy for extolling the creative juices of home cooks while ignoring good technique.
      Hope this helps.

  34. [...] Now that the op-ed has drummed up controversy, Kimball is trying to stage a fight, between himself and “the WIKI [sic]:“ [...]

  35. [...] op-ed has drummed up controversy, Kimball is trying to stage a fight, between himself and “the WIKI [sic]:“ The current rage is the WIKI [sic] recipe notion… I am willing to put my money, and my [...]

  36. Interesting. As a vegan food and recipe blogger I think that quite frankly, anyone’s kitchen can be as good as a professional ‘test kitchen’. Afterall-it is mostly at-home chefs preparing the recipe, most of whom have average cooking skills. So even the best-tested-test-kitchen-recipe may not turn out perfectly when prepared by an amateur. Thus, when I test a new vegan recipe in my at-home kitchen, I strongly believe that the recipe will translate BETTER than a professional test kitchen. Yup, that’s what I said. At-home test-kitchens more closely resemble the kitchens of those using the recipes.

    ..on another note, I think an important part of any WIKI recipe is the images. Images inspire and teach! I see an image for a recipe sometimes and don’t even need the recipe. Thus, an amateur-tested recipe with an A+ image, is better than any test-kitchen recipe without an image. Just look at FoodGawker.com and Tastespotting.com.

    Oh, and I’d love to challenge you with any of my recipes: http://www.healthy-happy-life.com
    At-home tested, vegan foodie approved!

    Kathy

  37. Well, actually, Mr. Kimball, I used to cook for a man who begged me to burn his food. His mother was a very busy psychiatrist who used to rush home and throw dinner on the table as quickly as she could, and she often burned it, especially if it was under the broiler. To his taste, burned food was mom food. Was it good? Not to me. Burned food tastes nasty to me. But he thought it was great.

    See? It’s all subjective. I agree that there are a few things one must know before heading into the kitchen. But I started cooking for my family after my mother died when I was eight years old, since there was no one else to do it. I didn’t know what I was doing at first, but pretty soon after I started, I was able to broil a steak, bake a potato, and steam some broccoli, and get the food to the table hot, edible, and all at the same time. All self taught.

    I’m not so hot under the collar as you would believe, but the recipes in your magazines are just not that wonderful. I’ve been cooking, sometimes professionally, for 42 years. I know how to follow recipes and to make excellent food, and I just have been disappointed with most of the things I’ve tried from your pages. So for you to style yourself as the arbiter of how things should taste when your recipes aren’t very good doesn’t make sense to me, and makes you appear quite arrogant.

    I wonder if I have more sensitive taste buds than you do because I have eaten things baked with artificial vanilla and haven’t liked them at all.

  38. There are many, many pretty blogs online and some of them are just that “pretty” and their content is crappola. The content is just pedestrian at best. I am not going to name names. Many of these blogs I find lacking in the cooking/baking depts.
    When you go throwing out names of professionally trained chefs and authors and then the names of people who take pretty pictures of food, it is insulting. Bloggers as much as we hold on a pedestal are currently all trying to get their stuff out to the public and as much as I love to read baking bloggers, cooking bloggers and food blogging in general, often it disappoints me. Why? Because the last place in the world you want to hone your craft is in PUBLIC. There I said it!!
    Example: When someone blogs about a quiche recipe from Thomas Keller (One I have made dozens of times without a hitch) and said blogger tells the free world they flubbed it, they did it again and the second time it was not so great so it must be the recipe, they have just sealed their fate.
    I made the Thomas Keller quiche and it was great, it was freaking amazing, people demand for me to make it. Said blogger totally panned Thomas Keller (a successful restaurant owner, chef, author) and did it on their blog because they do not have the skill it requires to make that quiche, they have set the tone for everything else they post. Now I cannot read that very blog because I do not believe the gaul said blogger had to chastize a great recipe/Chef because they are lacking in skill but certainly not in veracity or the ability to post pretty pictures of their flub on the freaking internet.
    The blogosphere is just not the same as published, skilled culinary professionals. You cannot use the name of a blog/blogger and one of a chef/food author in the same sentence or in the same manner. I don’t care if a blogger has a book out because they had “buzz” and many site hits and talked at freaking blogher or were on a talk show. You are mixing apples and oranges. Full stop!!! Blogging is in fashion and it will go out of fashion. The Eater article was not without merit. There are too many fish in the pond. Eventually how many people can you read about making the same cake. How many pictures of it do I have to look at on tastespotting? The blogs will thin out in time the fashion just has to pass.
    A celebrated blogger is not a chef (although some chefs are bloggers, thank God). They are people who are taking pretty pictures, telling stories and creating buzz to sell themselves. To me this is the skip to Go and collect your 200 bucks. This is precisely why I do not blog. I have watched thousands of others take beautiful pictures of crap food and bad mistakes from good recipes. I have listened while bloggers pan great cookbooks/recipes because they are not capable of the skills required to execute the recipes they are blogging about. I have seen “propaganda” used to elevate blogdom to some high level which is totally bogus and unearned.
    You will all get bored of the food blogosphere the same way you got tired of Food Network and Gourmet.
    Gourmet. became sucking down Risotto with underwear models.
    Food writing as we know it has been dumbed down. It is a trend and it will pass. Rachel Ray’s magazine is a huge success do you need any more proof than that?
    I agree with Chris Kimball and I what he has to stay. Why? I sought out CI in 1993 because I hated the food magazines and there was no internet. I read CI for three things, nuts and bolts mechanics, unbiased reviews and because CI does not sell advertising. Aren’t you tired of being spoon fed trends? I am. Whew rant over…

  39. Count me in – I accept the challenge!

    I see this as very much within the spirit of Cook’s Illustrated itself: form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, analyze results, and finally form a conclusion based on the results.

    Kudos CK!

  40. I wonder if it’s because of the high-brow arrogance of people like Mr. Kimball that snobbish cooking magazines such as Gourmet are dying while Rachel Ray, with her simple 30-minute recipes, is laughing all the way to the bank.
    Most of people who share their recipes on websites like Foodista or Foodbuzz don’t have culinary degrees or fancy internships in snooty French restaurants under their belts.
    I think you fail to understand that most of the people who publish recipes on these sites HAVE tested them out REPEATEDLY before they posted them for the public. I have tested out my recipes on my family, friends, co-workers, my husband’s coworkers and church family repeatedly before I ever published them.
    I’d much rather try out a recipe that someone’s great-great grandma brought over from the old country than an over analyzed “test-kitchen” recipe any day.
    I like the “why does this happen” scientific approach the test kitchen people do but I can also get that from Alton Brown without the condescension.

    • Okay, fair enough, but we have learned that recipe development is more about what people are going to do with a recipe in their kitchen rather than whether a recipe worked for your grandmother or for you. For example, you may be using a gas stove but someone who picks your recipe off the internet may be using electric, Or your oven is 25 degrees too hot when you tested that cake — do you have your ovens calibrated every month like we do? You might be using a cut of meat that someone can’t get in another other part of the country OR you call for cocoa but don’t specific natural or Dutch process which often makes a huge difference in baking. The real problem is how to eyeball the thousands of recipe on the internet and tell which are going to work. You can call us condescending if you like or even arrogant but our goal is to turn out dependable recipes. Having tested hundreds of grandmother recipes, I would, all in all, prefer to have a version that went through a test kitchen, just to make sure that it will work time after time in my home kitchen. But, seems that we disagree. If you prefer Alton Brown “without the condescension,” then, by all means, tune into the Food Network! I agree, Alton is terrific!

  41. ATK is often looking for “testers” who can try out their recipes. I’ll bet a lot of ‘normal’ cooks sign up to be testers. They send their feedback to ATK.

    How is this much different than the WIKI world?

  42. Good challenge!i am curious about the outcome :D

  43. Ok, I challenge you to a contest. I was in the great stony brook cook off, so let’s do this. You don’t stand a chance.

  44. Just today my graduate professor linked our class to two articles for a primer on a particular topic. The sources? Wikipedia and freeonlineresearchpapers.com. He said that this semester has gone so well he would probably never again assign textbooks.

    That being said, I believe the benefit of a wiki is in aggregating research and writing style. Simply put, if you have enough traffic every change passes through 1000s of eyes, and is more likely to be correct. But no one can eyeball a recipe and correct an “error.” At best they can push for the most common denominator. So this challenge does not fall into the two required competencies–unless, of course the wiki takes each step of the recipe and basically asks strangers to perform the steps. Then it’s just an inefficient, but free, version of ATK’s lab.

    So barring a divine ochlocracy or the revocation of the second law of thermodynamics, I’ll bet ATK will win.

  45. Okay. So when do we start? What’s the challenge details?

  46. Did you read/see Chef Luster’s commentary on this? I believe it’s well worth a read (and very balanced, I may add): http://chezgeek.com/2009/10/18/taking-chris-kimball-by-his-word/

  47. I know I am game, I love food and love to make new things and play with them. I did make peach BBQ sauce and now everyone want the recipe.

  48. Interesting. I’m a big fan and the founder of http://www.BakeSpace.com. While we’re not a wiki format, we are an online community filled with home cooks working together to make “What’s for dinner?” fun again. So I have some expertise in dealing with UGCs (user generated content sites) and working with advertisers/big publishing companies.

    I think you’re blaming UGCs as a reason magazines fail. We’re in a recession. Just because the product is something we love doesn’t mean it’s a viable business to the company that is spending money on creating it. You don’t need an MBA to understand that brands want to interact in real time with their fans. Simply put, the reason Gourmet folded was because their advertisers chose to put their money in other magazines and online portals.

    With that said…

    Maybe it’s the marketing lingo wiki format sites use that’s really troubling you – “creating the best recipe” or “curating the best”… I can see how marketing lingo could be misleading. But are you sure you want to discount a community working together simply because you assume they don’t have the chops?

    While I can appreciate years of experience and hours clocked in a test kitchen, you may be assuming home cooks don’t have the chops even though some have spent 40 years baking breads in their own kitchens. Simply because they do not have a byline or haven’t written a cookbook by no means disqualifies their experience, skills or ability to teach. They are actually wonderful teachers because they haven’t had the fortune to test out the latest greatest appliances and an unlimited supply of ingredients like you find in a test kitchen. Can bread only be be made with a professional mixer? Of course not. Innovation comes from creativity, not from the tools at hand.

    When all is said and done.. perhaps maybe it’s because of the passion and authority found in test kitchens and expert articles you yourself have written, that have inspired home cooks to start cooking or reinvigorate their weekly meals. Wouldn’t you say that’s kinda cool?

    Besides, who really had the authority to proclaim they can pick the best recipe … ever? And if we did claim a recipe was the best… would that stop us from seeking more? I don’t think so.

    Babette
    Founder BakeSpace.com
    @bakespace

  49. [...] to a balanced health-karma ledger would be to serve it with lentils so to Google I went.  (Sorry, Chris Kimball but Cook’s Illustrated doesn’t have a pork belly recipe—or at least I don’t [...]

  50. Still waiting to hear back. In the meantime, I just published a blog post about this and offer some clarification on what exactly a Wiki is: http://www.foodista.com/blog/2009/11/09/waiting-by-the-river-at-dawn/

  51. I think this Wiki vs Test Kitchen Recipe Challenge « Christopher Kimball Blog got really sweet things.
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  52. I am being fan of urs……..Should be always fun….I expect new blog posts with quiet interesting aspects…….Good work

  53. oops being much fun and of full joy….Wiki vs Test Kitchen Recipe Challenge gives new challenges……being this post looks brief and concise…and good 2

  54. Love the concept.

  55. Great concept

  56. But I want you to hear something… You and the “new media”-types are not so much at odds as you think.

  57. I am being fan of urs……..Should be always fun….I expect new blog posts with quiet interesting aspects…….Good work

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  60. This is an informative site.I see this as very much within the spirit of Cook’s Illustrated itself: form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, analyze results, and finally form a conclusion based on the results.

  61. Wiki vs Test Kitchen Recipe Challenge >> A real fever for a fan like me…can’t wait for the next event of this.

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  68. Easy Shepherds Pie Recipe:
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  83. Mr. Kimble,
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