People Who Eat In

Yesterday on Grub Street, Josh Ozersky called Bon Appétit magazine “the most boring” of the food rags, “an ad-packed Nembutal calling to mind the ‘women’s pages’ where newspapers used to publish their party recipes.”

It was his ultimate conclusion, though, that really caught my attention: “Once a magazine is a repository for recipes, it stops being exciting, unless someone figures out a way to attach it to the outside world. Bon Appétit is for people who eat in. No new typeface is going to fix that problem.”

Ozersky’s statement is certainly incendiary–the comments on his post reveal a spark of outrage. Personally, I see some truth to what he’s saying: cooking at home isn’t as exciting as going out. Sure, there’s the excitement of “oh, I almost burnt my house down” but you’re not engaged with the outside world the way you are when you wait two hours in the cold for your table at The Spotted Pig. I rarely spot celebrities at my kitchen table, but today at Brooklyn Fish Camp I saw Maggie Gyllenhaal eating with her mother. At home, you can sink into complacency–why sit at the table when you can eat in front of the TV? Out to dine, you’re on your game: chatting with the host, charming the waitress, discussing the dessert options with the next table. I get why going out is exciting.

And yet it’s not nearly as rewarding as cooking at home. Given a choice–home cooked meals forever, or only dinner out–I’d absolutely choose the former. There’s nothing that beats the joy of removing a slow braised pork shoulder from the oven while your friends await it, forks aloft (even if there’s melted plastic in it). Home cooked food at its best is infinitely more intimate, infinitely more loving than anything you can get at a restaurant and that’s as it should be: at the end of the day restaurants are businesses, they want your money. A home cook, on the other hand, just wants to make you happy.

And that’s why the recipe blogs I read, which comprise 90% of the food blogs out there, feel so sunny and warm and why the restaurant industry blogs that I read often feel so hostile and snarky. These are two worlds: the world of eating in, and the world of eating out. These worlds aren’t mutually exclusive and I certainly straddle both. But as my blog moves away from restaurant reviews and focuses more on cooking, it’s grown less exciting, sure, but it’s also grown more happy. I used to get the nastiest comments when I reviewed restaurants, now that I don’t the comments are almost entirely positive and constructive. And that’s a key word, “constructive”: cooking is a constructive act, eating out is passive. It’s easier to be reactive than proactive and that’s why, I think, food industry blogs are so sensational whereas home cooking blogs are often more honest, feeling, thoughtful and, ultimately, more human.

Which isn’t to say that industry blogs aren’t fun (double negative!). I love me the snark, I love me the gossip the same way that I love sneaking a peek at the People and the Us Weekly at the checkout. I simply wanted to offer a retort to Ozersky’s dig at “people who eat in.” You may not find us in the glossy pages of New York Magazine, but you will find us at our kitchen table, laughing with friends, and digging into a slice of homemade apple pie. I don’t know where you’d rather be, but I know where I’ll be tomorrow night.

I’ll get my recipe from “Bon Appétit.”

37 thoughts on “People Who Eat In”

  1. To criticize Bon Appétit for being ‘boring’ is missing the point.

    I would venture to guess that a majority of people who are looking for recipes online go to Epicurious, since the recipes are well-tested and equally well-written. (I don’t think the mentioned Food Network web site is an especially reliable source of recipes as many of them have a disclaimer they’re not tested.)

    While the magazine is in need of a makeover, I’m with you.

  2. Hear, hear! And I would go even further to say that some of the other food mags that spend too much time discussing things other than recipes and home-cooking techniques/trends/etc. are the boring ones! I can’t bear the endless health articles in Cooking Lights, Gourmet is getting too travel-heavy, and so on. I hope that the folks at Bon Apétit don’t consider the fact that they’re geared toward eating in a “problem”! I certainly don’t — I consider it the reason I subscribe.

  3. That’s what I subscribe to Bon Apetit as well. I love eating out but cooking is different – cooking is a process and an endeavor in a way that eating out isn’t going to be 99% of the time. And that’s what I want to devote enough of my energy to flip through a magazine about.

  4. Bravo…the experiences are equally fun and enjoyable, but for me it’s actually satisfying to make a meal myself, serve it to my friends and watch them enjoy a homecooked meal!

    I’ve linked this post on my site, hope to send some traffic your way today.

  5. I got tired of restaurant review sites for many of the reasons you mention. They don’t inspire me the same way food blogs about cooking do.

  6. hear hear… restaurants are so hit and miss. So’s my cooking sometime, but there is no end to the creativity in your own kitchen and getting ideas and then adjusting them to what’s available (I live in Eastern Europe)-well, it’s just no comparison. Food blogs and cooking are for a whole different kind of person!

  7. I agree that eating in is much more rewarding that dinning out. That said, I do think Josh has an important point: a collection of recipes isn’t that particularly inspiring, what is really the essence of interesting home cooking is new ways of thinking about how we prepare food. Some of my favorite cookbooks (Charcuterie, The River Cottage Meat Cookbook, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice) all have great recipes, but I keep going back to them because there is always something new to learn about food preparation (for example, I now feel pretty confident coming up with my own homemade sausage recipes).

  8. I adore eating in. Actually, correction. I adore cooking for people to eat in. Normally, I’m not very hungry by the time I finally sit down.

    Now, I picked up Bon Appetit and was a little annoyed with the ads and such, but there were ideas there. And that’s what matters. Am I a die-hard fan? Nope. I’m a recipe hunter and just about anywhere will do.

    But to criticize eating in is just silly. Most people without a huge wallet have to. And if eating is something we have to do and eating in the cheaper option, then I say do it well, do it with love, open up your kitchen table, be generous, encourage laughter.

    Jeez, who is this Grub Street guy anyway? Did he not get a good home-cooked meal ever? He can come eat at my table.

    BTW, this is my first comment, but I’ve been reading you for a while. Love the stuff. Plus, you’re funny. ;)

  9. This was a wonderful and thoughtful post on the ‘soul’ of a meal prepared at home.

    Just as restaurant cuisine may be lacking in that soul(not always and in varying degrees) bloggers like Ozersky are equally deficient within their own respective fields.

    Unfortunately these days, in some instances and certainly in this case, food journalists are writing not out of passion (or even knowledge) but rather a place of insecurity, both with themselves and with their understanding of their subject.

    Ozersky’s understanding of the food industry extends about as far as

  10. I’m actually happy with the direction this blog has taken. I live in NYC, but I far prefer the cooking posts to the restaurant reviews. And, I’m with you. I’d take a life of home cooking over a life of going out to eat every night without question.

  11. There is a chocolate pudding on the cover of the Jan. Bon Appetite (or bon appetite) that my daughter has begged me make. You can’t get that kind of reaction from an 11 year old from a resto review.

  12. I wholeheartedly agree. As much as I love eating out (not having to clean up is wonderful), nothing compares to preparing a big meal. I love the whole process, from shopping to prep, preheating to eating. I enjoy reading magazines like Bon Appetit to try a new recipe or use a recipe as a jumping off point for a new creation. Thanks for posting this. You rock!

  13. Good insight in this post; I definitely agree. While I do enjoy going out to eat (it’s fun to try new places, to be regular patrons of good local spots, or to just not have to worry about dishes once in a while) I’d also pick eating in over eating out if I had to make a once-and-for-all choice.

    Cooking to me is all those things you said about wanting to make your guests (and yourself) happy. I feel much more rewarded when I whip up something delicious out of just a few things I have laying around after work in a hurry, and I feel accomplished when I prepare something a bit more elaborate for dinner guests. Cooking, for me, is more than that though. I’m a software engineer, and as much as I love my job, I just need to get away from technology once in a while. Cooking becomes almost therapeutic for me then. I’m able to forget about anything that might be on my mind and just focus on something I find to be very enjoyable.

  14. “discussing the dessert options with the next table. ”

    You really do that in NYC? Only in the smallest of restaurants have I dared talk to the people at the next table. Probably a product of my West Coast “I vant to be alone” upbringing. :)

    I love cooking for people, ’cause I’m cooking for me, too. I’d way rather eat at home than out. Which suits me just fine with the diet I’m on for my health.

  15. This is exactly why I think the term Food Blog should be banished. Lumping restaurant blogs and cooking blogs into one category is wrong. Chefs don’t hate food blogs, they hate restaurant blogs. It cheeses me off…

  16. Vindication!

    I immediately felt bad after reading that post yesterday (part of my all day cruising of food websites). “But wait, am I that lame? I love Bon Appetit…”

    I think you make a wonderful argument here. Perhaps this is the reason why I can’t handle working in restaurants, while I love dining out and cooking at home. Give me $200 worth of ingredients and wine, and I’ll put together a more intimate and fulfilling dining experience at home.

    Well done.

  17. If the point of these magazines is not to use the recipes and cook at home, what is it?! Does he want the mags to publish recipes for us to take to restaurants and give to the chefs? Some inspire us to stretch our repertoire, some just to update comfort foods, but there is one for everyone’s needs and style…the one thing they have in common is RECIPES to cook at HOME!

  18. You picked out The Spotted Pig as an example of a two hour wait in the cold. It is not the only restaurant that has a wait like that. Besides, they have a second floor now so you can enjoy a pint while waiting. I remember that you’d enjoy your meal a few birthdays ago and then had one bad experience after that, still have a grudge?

  19. Here’s the thing…

    Restaurant Blogs (and restaurants, for that matter) don’t HAVE to be snarky–it is a CHOICE, and an unfortunate part of the status quo for reading and eating out in New York.

    as much as I enjoy cooking, I LOVE eating out in this city, and I would argue that if you go to the right restaurant–get good food with good friends, and are treated like a regular or a valued customer–the experience can be just as intimate as a meal prepared lovingly at home.

    Sadly, the kind of hospitality that I’m talking about is increasingly difficult to find in NYC…but Adam, in a lot of old-school places, it IS the aim of the restaurant to make you happy. That we no longer expect that this very basic tenant as eaters in NY, accustomed to condescending front-of-house and wallet-emptying back-of-house practices, is a crying shame.

    What am I trying to say? I don’t think you have to choose a camp. I don’t think preferring to eat out makes you automatically snarky and soulless, nor do I believe that cooking at home all the time makes you automatically warm, cuddly and soulful.

    I think it’s a good idea to keep your optimism up, and perhaps seek out the little family-run gems where true, gracious restaurateurs are NOT a myth.

    And if you find yourself in a popular, food-marketing-palace, I’d say just follow the same guidelines as you would a dinner party at home–enjoy your company, enjoy your meal. If the grub is great and the company is better, a meal can’t help but BE intimate.

    And if it’s no good, take comfort in the fact that you can go home and make something better.

  20. Well said Adam! My blog is pretty much entirely about (English) home cooking; that’s what I love and that’s what makes me happy – my home is where I like to be.

  21. I could not agree more with you. I’ve been a food writer/recipe developer for for years for several magazines (including Bon Appetit). But I stopped doing restaurant reviews years ago because they just seemed so ephemeral (and, it turns out, political). Around the table at home–on a weeknight with family, on a weekend with friends, or for a celebration with a whole slew of loved ones–that’s where the soul of food resides.

  22. What a great entry, and a great topic. I mean, are we supposed to be buying magazines that deal exclusively with restaurants and restaurant culture and chefs? I would pick a publication that’s 90% recipes and 10% about restaurants and chefs ANYDAY, whether it’s a blog or a magazine.

    As a food blogger myself, and one that mostly posts recipes and the stories that led to those recipes, I must say that he picked an interesting way to vent his frustration at the magazine and it’s readers. Perhaps it’s not the content but the way in which it’s presented, or the angle that’s taken. Or maybe he’s outgrown the magazine and should move on. And a new typeface can actually do a lot to pep up a publication. But that may just be because I happen to be in that line of work.

  23. Ozersky defintiely seems to make distinctions that may or may not exist. Are there only two camps? While I agree that Bon Appétit isnt always the most exciting in terms of editorial content– I completely disagree that is isn’t connected to the outside world or that it isn’t exciting. For those who appreciate creating food as much as having it created for them- recipes are exciting. Whether we agree with him or not Ozersky definitely managed to do what he set out to do. We are all sitting around discussing, not the magazine per se… but HIS thoughts on it.

    Well done John Ozersky.

  24. There is almost nothing better than eating a meal that’s been prepared by people who are cooking with love and skill. my favorite meals *in the world* are by my chef friends, either at the restaurant when they know it’s for me, or best of all, at thier house for any occasion.

    I think giving someone a meal made just for them and enjoying it together is one of the very best gifts on the planet! Bon Appetit is the very first magazine I subscribed to as a teen. I spent lots of spare time making all sorts of things out of there for my family to try and I think, overall, they liked it. I love going out because I love having food prepared just for me. I hope to marry a man who loves to cook what I love for me at home. God, that would be GREAT!

  25. Thanks for the wonderfully balanced post. Dining at home or in restaurants are two distinctly different sets of pleasures and, like you, I love them both. But when it comes to food magazines, Bon Appetit is my choice hands down, specifically because it mainly focuses on home cooking. I gave up my Gourmet subscription long ago because it had turned into a destination catalog of restaurants, hotels and spas.

  26. Wow — your fan-base has shown where their loyalties lie, for sure. Bravo for good, creative home cooking and eating in.

    I suppose the thing that bothers me the most about Ozersky’s comment is the snide dig implying that people who “eat in” are simply not worth knowing, being the types who would read this boring, fifties-throwback magazine that is so sadly devoted to recipes. Clearly Ozersky thinks we’d all rather spend our dinner hours as well as our lives running about trying to see and be seen, eating all-too-often mediocre food in wan settings, cheek-by-jowl with other poseurs who are also trying way, way too hard.

    I suppose he hasn’t given too much thought to the fact that one of America’s premiere restaurateurs, Alice Waters, has recently published a cookbook that more or less begs people to please stay home for a change, and learn how to cook something good for themselves. If anyone needs validation, they can remember that the doyenne of Chez Panisse advocates “eating in.” Me, all I need is another forkful of whatever’s on my dinner plate — that and my faithful partner-in-crime telling me once again that he doesn’t like restaurants because nothing there can compare to what he gets at home.

  27. I’m thinking that Ozersky was ripping on the rest of Fairchild’s comments, where she disses the rest of the food magazines she comepetes with:

    “As for the other magazines in the category, Fairchild said, “We are about the pleasure. We’re not Cooking Light, which is about fear: What can I eat without killing myself? We’re not Martha Stewart’s Every Day Food…that’s not how I want to live my life. And Food & Wine is really about New York chefs and restaurants. Our reach has always been extremely broad.” What about corporate sibling Gourmet? Fairchild grinned. “I already said Gourmet, didn’t I?” She had not. “We’re the

    one in the kitchen,” she said. “Gourmet is doing a campaign about food for thought. Thinking is fine, but for us it’s about getting in the kitchen — it’s about the passion.”

    I think she just pissed alot of very important people off.

  28. Ozersky penned an update to the original blurb on grub street. When I first read the nymag post, it seemed spot on; why would a magazine try to skew younger? (read: decaying business model and ineffective monetization of current assets)

    Mostly I read it as Bon Appetit should not try to dress a clown in a business suit. You still end up with a clown. This is not to say food magazines are clowns, but they are what they are. Let’s just say even if epicurious got their hack team programmers to make a facebook application, the kiddies are not going to rush to use it just because it is there. It will still be the people who call themselves young food enthusiasts who use it.

    End of the day, the decision to be hipper and to start with changing the font of the magazine logo? A bit superficial, yes?

  29. One of the things going wrong with American cuisine is the cult of “too muchness” and the attitude described is part of it.

    Eating out too much, gussying up recipes too much, trying to copy avant garde chefs too much, ignoring basic tenets and techniques too much are all playing a part in creating a climate in which food becomes secondary and food providers can dumb down quality because every ingredient is fated to meet “too much” of something, or even everything.

  30. I actually think it’s really strange that one would insult a recipe magazine by saying its for people who eat in. Uhm…isn’t that who recipes are for? I love to go out to eat, which is obvious from my blog, but I equally love to cook. When I first started my blog, I wanted to review restaurants, because I thought people would find that handy. And, I still consider myself a beginning cook, so I didn’t think I should write out any recipes anytime soon. However, just like you, as I started reading other blogs, I fell in love with some of the cooking blogs in a completely different way than the restaurant blogs. The cooking blogs (the good ones anyway) seek to nourish their readers with both prose AND food. It’s refreshing, and wonderful to read. And even though my blog is called “Restaurant Review World”, those cooking blogs inspired me to write about my adventures in the kitchen over Thanksgiving, and it was so rewarding.

    Anyway, I just wanted to chime in to say that I agree with you, and think that the article you described sounds so wrong :)

  31. There are merits in both eating out and eating in. My wife took me out for dinner tonight for my birthday and we had a wonderful, intimate meal at a lovely restaurant. It was well paced, the food was remarkable and we had a great time.

    We also eat in quite often (far more often than not) and I am quite an accomplished cook. Certainly we sit at the dining table and have several courses at times, but more often at home we’re sitting in front of the TV with the dog between us on the couch eating something that is very tasty but simply presented.

    That’s the beauty of eating at home: the bolognese that took hours to prepare over fresh pasta that could be served in a restaurant but which at home you can eat piled in a bowl with a 95 cent Ikea wine glass full of red while watching last week’s Heroes.

    I wouldn’t give up either the dinner out tonight or the bolognese that will be dinner in tomorrow night.

    Lastly, I got the new Bon Appetit today and after having heard last week about the changes I thought I’d be done with the magazine….but the new issue was concise, well presented and, I thought, far more useful than several recent issues. Along with Cook’s Illustrated I think it will remain the only magazine I take.

  32. Adam, you’re eloquent and engaging as always. Thanks for standing up for the importance of home cooking and the pleasures that “dining in” can bring, especially if you’re young and living in cramped quarters on a budget. As far as the hipness factor goes, time spent browsing food blogs suggests that those who ganache, quince and slurry also know from shoes.

    I’d like to quote the offending article: “There is some travel and restaurant stuff and a few token ‘fast easy fresh’ recipes, but basically this is the same stuff Gourmet was publishing in the sixties, plus lemongrass. There should be more about chefs and trends and ingredients and culinary culture. Bon Appétit chronicles the same fine-dining ghetto that people have been running away from at full speed for the last ten years.”

    And the key declaration which you note as well:

    “Once a magazine is a repository for recipes, it stops being exciting, unless someone figures out a way to attach it to the outside world. ”

    The reference to the outside world is not simply an allusion to the dining room attached to the kitchen of a famous chef nor the bialy you have to get out of your pajamas to buy across town.

    It’s food left on altars on the feast day of the local saint. It’s the way pipe dreams of ethanol raise the price of corn and threaten the diets of many Americans, whether North, Central or South. It’s the birth of the snow cone and orange dye in sharp cheddar cheese. Locavorism and cannibalism. Regional culinary traditions. Home Ec departments vs. professional culinary schools. The history of the recipe in the wake of household servants in the Middle Class Home. Latkes, the Irish potato famine and Mister Potato Head. Couch potatoes, even.

    As the editors, Coleman Andrews and Ruth Reichl have championed writers and subjects that move their magazines away from the confined, precious world of gourmets. Credit is due to newspapers in San Francisco, LA, Minneapolis and NYC, too, for publishing a greater diversity of articles and voices on pages once devoted exclusively to recipes and critical pronouncements on the merits of fine wines and restaurants. It’s heartening to see accomplished journalists, academics and literary writers contribute to the glossy pages of Condé Nast.

    This is not to say that recipes don’t have merit. Paula Wolfert is exemplary in the way she meticulously links the lives of home cooks throughout the world to history in her wonderful collections of recipes. Mark Bittman travels and interviews. I even respect Martha Stewart.

    It’s just that there’s more to food than shopping and chopping.

  33. On the dining in/out discussion, might I add that we don’t all live in New York, so an evening at The Spotted Pig is not really an option. If you happen to live in a small town where haute cuisine is a corn dog down at the local convenience store, cooking at home is really your only chance to explore different and interesting foods. Plus, inviting in friends to share your triumphs and even your disasters is what food should be about — enjoying the experience with kindred souls.

  34. carol wellins

    Yeah baby!!

    I surely enjoy a good cook’s night

    out (no dishes to wash whooo hooo) but anymore it is such a crapshoot, expensive and a bad meal can ruin your evening. I just cooked a birthday meal for my visiting Aunt, all her favorites, we took hours eating, talking and enjoying each other and the food in a way you just can not do in any restaurant I have been. Time and a place for both. I love to see the action at a happening restaurant, the smells, the dishes going by the going home and reverse engeneering something on the menu, the dance of he staff, an excuse to “put on the dog”.

    But it does not compare with the pleasure of picking your produce and ingredients, engaging your senses to sniff and eye them into a meal you share with your homies at your own pace.

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