After posting yesterday’s post about applesauce and “best recipes,” I woke up to an e-mail this morning from Tucker Shaw, who’s the new editor-in-chief of Cook’s Country at America’s Test Kitchen. Tucker’s actually been a long-time supporter of my blog (a blurb of his is featured on my first book) and I had no idea he’d taken over the helm of such a storied institution. Since I called out ATK in my post, it somehow caught his attention and here’s what he has to say. Don’t worry: I asked his permission to publish this. And I figure it’s only fair to put his response on here, since it so clearly addresses my attack on their use of the word “best.” (Though feeling a little hypocritical after someone pointed out on my Facebook page that my cookbook is called Secrets of the Best Chefs.) Thanks, Tucker, for reaching out.
I love your applesauce post from yesterday. We’re all talking about it this morning at ATK. I know your post isn’t really about ATK as much as recipe prescriptiveness in general (and also applesauce). But it’s got us musing over here
I totally get what you’re saying! What’s best for one goose isn’t always best for the next goose.
I think that ATK’s intent when we use words like “best” has changed over the years, and is still evolving, but I think that our aim is never to corral home cooks into an our-way-or-the-highway situation, but rather to get them as close to an objectively successful/satisfying result as possible (insofar any cooking result can be “objectively” satisfying, see goose v. goose above). This in turn, we hope, gives them confidence — confidence in us, of course, that’s our business hope so that they re-subscribe — but also confidence in themselves to then go off and invent.
We don’t always get that message exactly right, and I can see how sometimes it sounds like we’re discouraging creativity. But I think our real mission, and certainly the most gratifying result, is when we’re able help someone develop the skills and experience to be able to inhabit those creative decisions with confidence and build on them. We always need to check ourselves on how we communicate that goal, and your post is a really nice opportunity for us to do some checking. We don’t want to prey on insecurities! We want to instill confidence.
It’s funny timing. I actually just finished writing an editor’s letter for an upcoming issue of Cook’s Country about this very thing. About how for me personally, I always follow a recipe exactly the first time because I know I’ll learn something. Then, on my second date with a given recipe, I tinker and tailor. (Send over a soldier and a spy and, well, that’s a complete meal.)
Anyway, this is really just a long winded way of saying hi, and thank you for the food for thought this morning!
I hope all’s well your way. Those fires out there looks scary.