Hopkinson and "mindless innovation"
My brain hit pause-and-spin when I read in NYTimes' piece on Simon Hopkinson: "he is driven nearly mad by carelessly peeled potatoes, badly washed lettuce and what he views as mindless innovation. 'Why on earth would anyone put cumin in mint sauce for lamb, or a Caesar dressing on bibb lettuce?' he asked, wincing in genuine pain. 'There’s no reason for it.'”
No reason for it? How exactly does Hopkinson think that our flavor combinations emerged in the first place? Did mirepoix emerge from Zeus' thigh like Athena? Or perhaps innovation emerged via casual collisions on ancient street corners: "Hey you got your honey in my yogurt!" "No, you got your yogurt in my honey!" (I wonder how many people have seen the Reeses
Rules of flavor have emerged through trial and error over centuries. With trial, comes error! It might be bad, but don't question the why. In ancient times, "fusion" happened through military expansion and today it continues via travel and trade. I do not believe that the door has been closed on originality or food innovation, either through flavor experimentation or today's molecular gastronomy investigations.
Cookstr & Online Recipes
The other week, the NYTimes also had an article on Cookstr, a new recipe website being started by a former publishing exec which pulls in recipes from the cookbook stars and in doing so hopes to sell more books.
I am firmly in the camp that the Internet, and social media in particular, sells more books. Cookbooks are a purchase of desire, not necessity. If it was the latter, all you would need is a copy of How To Cook Everything, or Joy of Cooking, or The Cook's Companion if you are down-under, and you would have more than enough to eat well. I believe that the blogosphere (and its hugely-increased word of mouth dynamic) is one of the strongest marketing channels for cookbooks. I have bought numerous books because bloggers I like have tried and shared recipes, and in doing so raved about a book. Word of mouth works because of trust; trust emerges through time and relationships, even tenuous ones. It means a lot more than a review from a stranger on Amazon.com.
While there are many places for recipes online, people still want to feel like they are making a "safe" bet before they labor over a stove, and nothing screams reputation more than a big name. I believe that Cookstr will do well and carve out a place for itself.
Looking ahead, I wonder if Cookstr be able to control the impulse to "shut down" the recipe sharing that goes on in the blogosphere. A natural inclination might be to become the "exclusive" source for their authors, or fight modifications like that misguided attempt by Cook's Country earlier this year. Over the last several years, traditional media, PR and marketing has been fearful, controlling, and at times even threatening to social media, but it is a bit like trying to stop the tide from coming in (not to mention an excellent exercise in how to alienate your customer base).
I think that Cookstr will be wise to embrace and incorporate social media into their planning and product. Like any startup, no doubt they shall begin small, but over time we shall see if Cookstr's founder, or his consultants, really understands this new medium he is embracing. I will note that Jamie Oliver did not come across well in his quote in the article. It smacked of arrogance and a refusal to acknowledge that his recipes come from a deep foundation of recipe sharing and evolution, but I'm going to give Jamie the benefit of the doubt since he seems like such a down-to-earth bloke and the wrong soundbites, out of context, can make anyone sound terrible.
Musings and misgivings aside, I look forward to Cookstr's launch and am hopeful that they will be an excellent online resource.
All that talking and finally some links! Here are some of my favorite posts from the last several weeks. I seem to be pie crazy at the moment!
- The Wednesday Chef: Chez Panisse's Winter Squash, Onion and Red Wine Panade (there are many things on Wednesday Chef that I could link to - I share a lot of her food interests. Speaking of cookbook sales, her blog put me over the edge to open my wallet and buy Alice Waters' Art of Simple Food, which I love)
- Food Junkie Not Junk Food: Courgette Pie (mmm pie!)
- A Good Appetite: Cheddar, Bacon and Apple Tarts (this recipe seems totally bizarre to me, and yet utterly irresistable, and hell, it's kind of a pie)
- Kalofagas: Artichoke Pie (artichoke pie, do you need to say any more?)
- Simply Recipes: Curried Pork Empanadas (mini-pies!)
- Kitchenography: The Farm Journal's Lemon Ginger Pear Pie (I don't do dessert very often but this might just make me. Pie!)
- Technicolor Kitchen: Pear and Cinnamon Madeleines (maybe I have been replaced by an alien -- my sisters suspected that long ago -- for that is another dessert!)