At The Risk Of Becoming The Girl Who Hates Things

The internet ate my morning. It’s about to eat my evening. Hang in there, this bitch is gonna be long.

So last week Christopher Kimball, (you know my boy Chris? Bowtie? Apron? Makes weird sex noises when sampling food?) a.k.a. That Guy I Hate, wrote an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times about the closing of Gourmet, and why it was probably because of that dang internet. I don’t know if you’re required to be a sanctimonious douchenozzle to write an Op-Ed in the Times, but that is my understanding of the situation. Anyway, he’s real sad Gourmet’s dead.

“This, hard on the heels of the death of Julia Child in 2004, makes one tremulous about the future. Is American magazine publishing on the verge of being devoured by the democratic economics of the Internet? Has the media industry fully become an everyman’s playing field, without the need for credentials or paid membership?”

For the sensitive reader, I’ll tell you right now that he trots out Julia twice in this article, for no real reason. Those of you who are offended by the use of a dead loved one to make a barely relevant point may want to turn away.

Hey, I used to do it too. It got me into college.

So yeah, pretty much it’s the same fears that print media has had for the last TEN YEARS rearing their ugly head. Kimball is especially concerned that the quality of recipes will decline now that we don’t have boatloads of money to throw at lengthy editorials on morel foraging in Peru. He then makes a point to give kudos to his own publication, Cook’s Illustrated, for flourishing under an ad-free subscription model with a Fort Knox-like (trust me, I’ve tried) website. That must be the paid membership he was referring to!

He goes on to mourn the loss of Old Skool journalism, where you could only achieve recognition and respect through years of hard work and study. Unless you were a lady. Or black. Or oh forget it.

“The shuttering of Gourmet reminds us that in a click-or-die advertising marketplace, one ruled by a million instant pundits, where an anonymous Twitter comment might be seen to pack more resonance and useful content than an article that reflects a lifetime of experience, experts are not created from the top down but from the bottom up. They can no longer be coronated; their voices have to be deemed essential to the lives of their customers. That leaves, I think, little room for the thoughtful, considered editorial with which Gourmet delighted its readers for almost seven decades.

To survive, those of us who believe that inexperience rarely leads to wisdom need to swim against the tide, better define our brands, prove our worth, ask to be paid for what we do, and refuse to climb aboard this ship of fools, the one where everyone has an equal voice. Google “broccoli casserole” and make the first recipe you find. I guarantee it will be disappointing. The world needs fewer opinions and more thoughtful expertise — the kind that comes from real experience, the hard-won blood-on-the-floor kind. I like my reporters, my pilots, my pundits, my doctors, my teachers and my cooking instructors to have graduated from the school of hard knocks.”

Maybe it’s just the way he puts it, but doesn’t it sound like kind of a good thing to have an equal voice? To have experts created from the bottom up? To rely on relevance rather than branding to choose which writers we trust? He makes it sound like publishing is this boys’ club of pedigree and get-off-my-lawn style clinging to tradition, and who doesn’t think that deserves to get challenged, just a little? Though I don’t think blogs will ever replace magazines, in a sense he’s right to be antsy about his place in the world.

Then he goes on to say that Julia would’ve had his back because she always wanted to know where a chef had trained. Which is a decent question, I suppose, for a PROFESSIONAL CHEF who runs a kitchen, creates the menu and gets called “Chef” by his underlings, though I’ve never worked in a kitchen formal enough to require addressing someone by their title. But I don’t expect that specific experience from bloggers OR editors at Gourmet, nor do I think Julia would’ve poo-pooed a chef for saying he or she simply worked their way up from the dish station and trained in the school of hard knocks, baby. Well, maybe she’d have taken issue with being called baby.

But the thing that has incensed a lot of bloggers is the “ship of fools” comment regarding the push for print media to go online. In a follow-up blog (HELLO) post he clarifies his statement to be less about the blogosphere in general and more about the internet chatter from untested recipe sites. This is where it really gets interesting. He had four points to make:

1) He finds much of the crap said on the internet to be dumb, even though he enjoys using it and concedes that some of his tweeps are funny.

2) However, it’s a free country and y’all can talk out of your butts all you want.

3) No wait, actually please stop the butt-talking because a world without editors is a world filled with idiots and liars. Blogger zombies are going to eat him and Walter Cronkite. Sounds leathery!

4) THIS IS THE MAIN POINT, KAY. Recipes tested by professional cooks, repeatedly and under controlled circumstances, will always be the more reliable method because there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, and they know the right way. Suck it.

Kimball admits in the comments that this is a pretty self-serving thing to say (and full disclosure: I’m a blogger defending the internet ZOMG). And it’s true that his recipes are probably better than some shit you fucking google. But this is a gross misunderstanding of the way people use the internet. When I need a recipe, I don’t do a random internet search and make the first one I see. I check if any of my favorite food bloggers have made it. I check my cookbooks. If I check a recipe site like epicurious (run by conde nast, hello) or Tasty Kitchen (a user-generated community based site, run by the Pioneer Woman) I make sure that the recipe is well written and, preferably, has a couple reviews so I can get a second opinion. And editor doesn’t make a good recipe. Even a well tested recipe may not be relevant to my needs as a cook. Only I am qualified to decide if a recipe might taste good to me.

Chatter is chatter, and there will always be chatter. To assert that we are too dumb to separate the wheat from the chaff is ridiculous. Yes, the internet has a lot of semi-illiterate chirping from douchebags and 12 year olds, but it’s also the device that gave us the verbal smackdown of “just fucking google it.” Chatter is part of the charm. Boy, does that make me sound like a reasonable human who lives in this fucking world young.

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4 Comments

Filed under rants

4 responses to “At The Risk Of Becoming The Girl Who Hates Things

  1. Mommy

    Is it wrong of me to wish Chris Kimball’s bow tie would get possessed by a demon and strangle him a little bit tighter every time he makes an annoying statement?

    • Emmy

      I think the bow tie is keeping his spindly little neck attached to his shoulders. I mean, WHY ELSE would he wear it all the time?

      And btw, I find it really adorable when you comment on my blog as “mommy.” It’s like Margaret Cho’s mom accosting her fans in the lobby of a show, minus the accent. Hi Mommy!

  2. Jennifer

    So, as much as I like Cooks Illustrated, I have to agree with you completely!! I buy his books because I realize Internet recipes are potentially scary, but I am afraid he’s lost track of modern reality.

    In the fifth paragraph he goes off into this weird nostalgia about how great it was when the world was simpler, dominated by a few little-boys-club-like groups. Even “advertisers had to pay premium prices to join the club and editors… had to become stand-alone cultural icons…” WTF?! (And why doesn’t NYT allow comments for this article?)

    The world is a better place now, because one doesn’t have to have “a lifetime of good breeding” (aka lots of money and/or influence) to succeed. All you need is determination, talent, hard work, and a little luck. And why, would I ever care about the editors of a magazine. They could be cats for all I care, as long as they produce a good product!

    • Emmy

      Exactly, the article makes no sense! The best explanation I can think of is that the NYT asked him to write something about Gourmet and he couldn’t think of anything poignant so he just rambled on. And any sort of “remember the good old days” talk runs the risk of sounding like “you kids get off my lawn!” I have the America’s Test Kitchen book and use it often, but Kimball himself…I’m not a fan.

      Also, Cook’s Illustrated is notoriously protective of their recipes and requires bloggers to ask permission before posting them, and then only if they don’t alter them. I mean, who doesn’t alter recipes? The whole company just seems very hostile to new media.

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