Old Versus New Media: Food Writer Edition

Cook’s Illustrated editor Chris Kimball has thrown down the gauntlet!

If you haven’t been following this food blogger versus professional writer battle that’s been simmering, it started when Kimball wrote a fairly silly op/ed in the Times, bashing both the so-called amateurish writing of bloggers, as well as the larger movement of participatory culture that is happening in all areas of media, where “regular people” have been given a voice through social media. When it comes to food writing, Kimball doesn’t seem too keen on this at all:

…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.

Bloggers have hit back; in particular, Adam Roberts, over at the Amateur Gourmet, has a great response:

The derision and condescension in this statement is baffling. Every food writer—from MFK Fisher to Ruth Reichl herself—started at the bottom and worked their way up. Kimball, at the end of his column, invokes Julia Child, a cook who didn’t start her food career until much later in life. If she’d had a blog documenting her time at Le Cordon Bleu (and maybe she would have, if she’d been born a few decades later), would Kimball complain that she hadn’t spilled enough blood in the kitchen yet? That “inexperience rarely leads to wisdom?”

It’s naïve to think that all food writing on the web is created equal, that the “million instant pundits” are all valued the same. The truth is that there are, indeed, an enormous number of food blogs out there, but it’s still a meritocracy: only the good ones gain traction. The most popular food blogs are popular because of their quality; in many ways, their content is better than much of what you’ll find in actual food magazines, including Kimball’s.

Kimball comes across here as elitist, an old guard fighting off the new. If he doesn’t read food blogs, he’s missing out on a diverse world of recipes and ideas and perspective on food. His notion of an “anonymous Twitter comment” is also strange — while we may not see each other on Twitter, the people I talk to there are hardly strangers. And yes, if someone I follow (and trust) on Twitter makes a recipe or restaurant recommendation, I’ll surely be paying attention.

In any case, perhaps looking to settle this (or cash in on the controversy, more likely!), Kimball has upped the ante, challenging any recipe found on a wiki to one of his from the Test Kitchen:

So, I am willing to put my money, and my reputation, where my big mouth is. I offer a challenge to any supporter of the WIKI or similar concept to jump in and go head to head with our test kitchen. We will jointly agree on a recipe, on the rules, on a time frame, etc. At the end, we will ask a panel of impartial judges to make and test the recipes and declare a winner.

It’s a fantastic idea, and should be lots of fun.

Let the games begin!!!


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