How do you know if you can trust a recipe from a food blogger, a chef, or a cookbook author? Why do we trust some recipe authors more than others? And why do we not trust certain recipe authors at all?
We're inundated by food blogs, food websites and recipe aggregation sites these days. There are so many cookbooks out there, and more coming out every year, that it's almost funny. And they all seem to have some kind of marketing angle, food niche or some celebrity chef behind them in order to stand out from the pack.
And there's nothing more frustrating than trying a new recipe and having taste bad. It can take the fun out of cooking for weeks. No, months!
New cooks--those who haven't yet developed an eye for discerning good recipes from bad ones--are like lambs led to slaughter in this world.
But yet there are certain cooks and chefs I instinctively trust: writers and cookbook authors like Mollie Katzen, Paul Prudhomme and Jay Solomon, for example. Among food bloggers, I instinctively trust recipes from people like Dave at Food and Fire, Melissa at Alosha's Kitchen, Jules at Stonesoup, and Mike at Dad Cooks Dinner, just to name a few.
And then there are the cooks and food bloggers I instinctively don't trust: like Martha Stewart, or Shauna Ahern. Martha Stewart has a reputation for complex, often difficult, recipes. Shauna Ahern has an unfortunate reputation for publishing sloppy, error-ridden recipes.
I think it comes down to consistency. As circular as it may sound: if you're reliable, people will rely on you. They'll see you as a generally sound source of good recipes. This is what I'd like to have for my reputation here at Casual Kitchen. People know what they're predominantly going to get here: easy, healthy and laughably inexpensive recipes. Sure, not all readers will like all of my recipes, but the majority of readers should like the majority of my recipes... or else I'm doing it wrong.
I'd also add that the standards differ between regular bloggers and professionalized websites or cookbooks or magazines. Recipes from professionalized sites have test kitchens, editors, copy editors and fact-checkers: in other words, they have a staff of people who exist to check things over. This isn't to say that you'll never find a mistake in a professionalized publication, but the vast majority of mistakes will get caught and fixed.
Therefore, the professionalized realm is, and should be, less forgiving: If you publish a bad or error-ridden recipe on a professionalized media site, your reputation can suffer permanent harm.
I think this is why, for example, a widely-read food blogger like Shauna Ahern can catch heavy flack after publishing error-ridden recipes on professionalized food sites. Ahern's infamous "Potato-Mushroom Tart" on Martha Stewart's website is an object example: not only did it leave out "potatoes" in the ingredient list (an error several commenters quickly caught), but the savory recipe also accidentally included a sweet crust recipe containing cinnamon and sugar (an error that several commenters caught after having made the recipe, which apparently tasted awful). By the way, this recipe, and the Martha Stewart-affiliated website that contained it, have long since been deleted. But as we all know, the internet never forgets.
Look, nobody is saying everything must be perfect everywhere and always. But if you're publishing recipes on major media company websites, you (or the site publishing you, or ideally both) have an obligation to not post recipes with catastrophic errors in them. Don't you think?
Readers, how do you know who to trust when you read food blogs? How do you think about this issue?
For further reading:
1) Shauna Ahern's infamous and error-ridden Potato Mushroom Tart post, courtesy of the wayback machine.
It's quite interesting to read the comments--there's an entire a story arc there. First, a series of increasingly frustrated comments from readers who can't believe such a glaring error could exist in a recipe from a well-known food blogger on a Martha Stewart site no less. Next, days later, a response from a site editor. Then, yet another day later, a response/excuse from Shauna Ahern herself ("I'm not sure why people are so upset"). After that, a series of weird sockpuppet-like comments ("this recipe was delish!"). And then an intriguing meta-discussion of whether it's "mean" or "a personal attack" or "hate" to criticize a bad recipe on a major media company's food website. Really interesting on a few levels.
2) About a month later, Ahern published another highly suspect recipe, this time on The Food Network's website.
3) Not for the faint of heart, and don't go here if you have anything else to do today: A 1,391-page (and growing) thread on Shauna Ahern at the Get Off My Internets forum.
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