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COOKS ILLUSTRATED - "thanks, and don't let the door hit you on the way out ..."

I have been a recipe-tester for CI for several years. Until today, it has been a mutually beneficial relationship. Imagine my surprise at receiving the following e-mail this AM, the "So Long, Sucker" brushoff. There was some excited buzz about this topic not long ago and I thought I'd pass along what is in store for you after your service, not to mention, expense.

"Dear Friend,

Thank you for the contributions you have made as a recipe tester for America’s Test Kitchen. The information we receive through the recipe testing surveys is an invaluable asset in the development of recipes and the improvement of our publications. In an effort to continue to expand our understanding of the landscape our readers face while preparing recipes, we will be refreshing our list of testers and looking for input from new cooks.

As we update our lists, our veteran recipe testers will no longer receive new requests, as a way to allow newer members a chance to participate.

We appreciate your ongoing dedication to helping our publication's continued success.

Happy Cooking!

The Editors of Cook’s Illustrated"

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  1. I don't get it. The email seems polite and the logic of refreshing their recipe testers makes sense. And while you are doing them a service, hopefully you're having fun doing it. Otherwise, what's the point?

    Also, there's not really a cost to participate. Is there? They don't require you to make all (or any of) the recipes so something that stretched your budget could be skipped, and either way, you're going to cook something for dinner right?

    1. I agree with mikefoody. The contents of the email were not mean spirited in the least. I can understand being disappointed, but what's with the obvious sour grapes? Think of all the great things you've learned in the experience and try and move on. Doesn't sound like the end of the world.

      1. Jfood is with you Sherri. This is dispicable, like firing someone and saying thanks for playing. There are so many other ways to handle an over-supply of testers, for example increase the time span between recipe tests, or slowly bring new testers into the fray slowly.

        Now jfood feels badly because he just signed up and received his first recipe to test, creamy tomato soup.

        although jfood has defended ATK in the past from other posters who called them totally self focussed, maybe jfood was wrong. This is an atrocious way to handle their popularity.

        Shame on ATK. BTW - No chance jfood would ever serve that tomato soup concoction in his house and he has no plans on wasting his time and money onthat one.

        13 Replies
        1. re: jfood

          Don't know about despicable, but I certain sympathize and think it was poorly worded and rather dismissive and there were better ways to handle this, as jfood suggested.

          Not actually a big fan of AFK in the first place.

          1. re: MMRuth

            Let's change "dispicable" to "unprofessional" .

            1. re: jfood

              jfood, I wrote a response to you that must have been deleted. Thanks for the support, you too MMRuth. I do feel that years of service could have been better handled and I only posted to save others from the same fate. I appreciate your understanding.

              1. re: Sherri

                Jfood wrote there as well, oh well.

                He suggested that instead of the dismissive letter they should have asked if there was a particular type of cuisine or course that you wanted to focus on. Their totally dismissive letter was wrong.

                Likewise jfood, a longtome subscriber resents not having access to their on line recipes w/o an additional charge. he pays for the recipes inthe monthly magazine and should have online access as well.

                But it's their business model.

                Have fun cooking and feeding your family that's what it's all about.

          2. re: jfood

            jfood I usually agree with your posts but this time I'll have to stand on the other side of the aisle. I don't see much wrong with it. It's a bit cold and is certainly a form letter but to expect a personal letter to each would probably be unreasonable.

            You changed despicable to unprofessional but I also disagree with that word. I think that it's too professional. It's the same to everyone with no real empathy for those who have participated for however long.

            It sucks I'm sure. You don't have to like it but there is someone out there for everyone who's upset that's happy for the chance to participate. Perhaps someone is upset because you've taken their place.

            Anyway, enjoy it while it lasts. Seems that "All good things must come to an end" is the case here.

            DT

            1. re: Davwud

              jfood understands the other side of the argument and that's cool. But until you are forced to look into the eyes of someone who has done a good job and had to let them go, it is not easy to understand.

              Jfood believes you never fire a volunteer, always unprofessional. You find a place where they can contribute. That's just jfood's philosophy. When someone makes the decision to volunteer and they have been a long time volunteer, you NEVER fire them you find a way to use them in a limited role.

              In this case jfood thinks a good idea would have been for ATK to lighten the load either by asking the OP to choose a course or a increase the timespan between recipes. That would have been the professional way to handle this.

              By sending this "Thanks for Playing" letter CI has basically reinforced many posters comments in other thread that CI is a very self-important magazine. Jfood has lost respect for them for this.

              So we can agree to disagree but firing a long time volunteer is very unprofessional in jfood opinion. It seems the OP is handling better than many of us, jfood included.

              1. re: jfood

                'Scuze me, guys, and that's both jfood and davwud, but she wasn't a volunteer. She was unpaid, but she was also RECRUITED! And she's not a home cook, she's a professional! That puts a whole different light on things, don't you think?

                1. re: Caroline1

                  Yes. I'm not sure how though. Perhaps they want less "Professionals" testing and more "John/Jane Q" types.

                  DT

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    Nope. Unpaid service = Volunteer.

                    Jfood has been "recruited" by many organizations to use his professional abilites to assist the organization. In each case he considered himself a volunteer to that organization.

                    1. re: jfood

                      actually, I would liken testing recipes for CI to the peer review system used in academia. Peer reviewers are not paid. They are recruited. and they are not volunteers. They provide a service to the profession as a part of their responsibilities to their universities, departments, and the academic community.

                      i.e. unpaid service does not always equal volunteer

                      1. re: nc213

                        nope, not equal at all. and you agree by stating they perform these tasks "as a part of their responsibilities to their universities, departments, and the academic community." There is no such responsibility to ATK. Jfood has been/is both. As a tester he can decide whether to test the recipe or not, as seen in the low response rate for ATK. It is quite a different process in academia. You better have one heck of a good reason to tell the head of the department you will not sit on a peer review.

                        1. re: nc213

                          I disagree completely. Peer review is a job requirement in academia. If your research doesn't stand up to peer review, no reputable journal will touch it and your hopes for tenure or promotion will be toast.

                          If you refuse to do peer reviews when invited and aren't at the pinnacle of your field, you'll likely have a hell of a time getting your own research published. And if your department head, someone on your tenure committee, or a big shot in your field does the asking, you ain't gonna say no.

                          You must have appropriate credentials and, if the research is important, an established reputation, to be recruited at all. The CI recipe testing discussed here is as far from peer review as it gets. There is no requirement for demonstrated competence and no responsibility to CI. And if you slam the recipe, CI has no obligation to take your criticisms into account.

                          1. re: embee

                            Also, the peer review system implies reciprocity. You don't just review others' work; they review yours. CI doesn't do that -- it's a one-way transaction.

              2. I enjoy the magazine itself but I find CI's business practices to be highly annoying. I think it's inappropriate to be bombarded by all the inserts and blow-out cards in the magazine itself, not to mention all the promotional emails. I find the same kind of arrogance to this Dear John letter.

                A friend of mine just started working at Consumer's Union as a part-time sensory taster. Decent pay and a seriousness of purpose. Any for-profit organization that enlists volunteers to enhance its work product has a certain obligation to treat the volunteers well, IMO.

                1. Hi, Sherri. The word "tacky" comes to mind. And a few others that are stronger. But it also raises some looming questions in my mind. I have serious doubts that making room for new testers is the reason simply because maximizing the number of testers means a greater cross sampling of home cooks, and that means more accurate data. And I cannot believe they have a "zero" attrition rate from participants who lose interest.. So excuse my suspicious mind, but what are they doing? Cooking the books?

                  Yeah. I make lousy puns. But I am curious as to whether you ever gave a test recipe a negative review? Or not even negative, maybe just didn't rave about how wonderful it was? If they're doing the cutback because they use some sort of excessively labor intensive way of compiling the feedback, in that position I would try to come up with a better way to analize the information long before I considered limiting the number of testers. "Get out of the sandbox and let the other kiddies have a turn," just doesn't seem like the best way to collect data that you deem to be valuable. My BS Meter is bouncing all over the red zone!

                  Sorry you turned out to be the feeding hand that got bit!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Caroline1

                    Increasing the number of participants doesn't necessarily increase the accuracy of the sample. For accuracy, it's more important to have a sample that reflects the demographics of the group you're studying.

                  2. I've never seen 'so much' read into 'so little'. Again, while I can understand being disappointed the contents and tone of the email can in no way be construed as mean spirited. Nasty, mean spirited letters hardly start off with thanking someone for their contributions and explaining what those contributions have meant.

                    "Anger is a momentary madness, so control your passion or it will control you.'
                    -- Horace

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: crt

                      I'm with you, crt. If this is mean spirited and dispicable, I truly hope this is the worst you ever come across. So they're refreshing their list. I don't think it's a bad thing for them to bring in new blood. It's no different than them revisiting items they've tested before. If you're that offended get yourself another email address and reapply.

                      1. re: crt

                        I agree. The letter was actually very nice.

                      2. JMHO, but it seems like many of you are getting way too torqued about something that's really minor in the grand scheme of things. I agree that the concept of "firing" a volunteer is a little, well, unorthodox, but I wouldn't expend that much energy worrying about it. As I said, just my opinion, so don't flame me for it.

                        Here's a theoretical question, though: For those of you who are offended by this, would it have been preferable for them to just have stopped sending recipes? I can understand their wanting to bring in new blood with different tastes - the OP did say that she had been a tester for several years. Is it the action, or is it the communication of it, that offends you?

                        10 Replies
                        1. re: Suzy Q

                          What does a commercial organization do when it has too many volunteers? Its hard to be "let go" from being part of something that has had meaning in your life. It puts me in mind of being let down easy, many years ago, by a man I had been seeing - he gave me a nice bag when we parted. I think at least some kind of a parting gift would have been in order.

                          CI is and has been for years seriously weird. Their subscription practices, everything. I was a subscriber to the original CI and with them from the start until a few years back - I started getting these irritating letters trying to encourage me to ":come back" - I wrote them and told them they already had me - no response. I finally got irritated enough - this was after 2-3 more years of periodically getting these notes - that I actually did not renew (it was starting to feel like they had lost their impetus anyway). Did I get any letters asking me to renew, telling me that my subscription had run out, asking me to come back?? NO, not a one. Seriously, seriously out of whack.

                          So that is what I would expect from them. an approach that doesnt make much sense, human relations-wise.

                          1. re: Suzy Q

                            [Former CI editor here]

                            As far as the need to "refresh" the list, it does seem odd. Though after having sat through Recipe Meetings that lasted hours and hours going through the recipe testers' comments and deciding what to tweak and/or test in the kitchen before finally publishing the finished recipe, I can vouch for their genuine interest in the experiences of home testers----and the fact that if a particular recipe generates negative comments, the recipe is either fixed or (very often) never released. I found Chris Kimball and the rest of the staff actually to be rather neurotically obsessed with the testers' experience. Very intense. In fact, I'd say the staff gets more suspicious when the feedback is nothing BUT raves, rather than the other way around. I've worked at other food magazines, and never saw such a willingness to discard months of kitchenwork if the recipe didn't pass muster with the readers.

                            The only thing I can think of is that I did notice a few "recurring" testers (though it's anonymous, after a while, you learn to recognize syntax, etc.). And especially when only 10 hardcore magazine fans try the more difficult recipes, I sometimes suspected we were developing recipes geared to that elite group of nimble home cooks and the on-staff test cooks themselves, rather than a group that truly represented the wide variety of skill levels of the entire readership.

                            Still, I agree that it's an odd approach to "clean the slate," so to speak. Why not just add new testers to "dilute" the influence of the ardent core?

                            1. re: Suzy Q

                              "Here's a theoretical question, though: For those of you who are offended by this, would it have been preferable for them to just have stopped sending recipes? I can understand their wanting to bring in new blood with different tastes - the OP did say that she had been a tester for several years. Is it the action, or is it the communication of it, that offends you?"......Suzy Q
                              -----------------------------------------------

                              I find it extremely poor communication on their part from a group that seemingly takes pride in their communication skills. Here's a link to their website blurb asking for volunteers: http://tinyurl.com/yteu5s

                              It says nothing about how long a volunteer's services will be required. It leaves the strong impression that it will continue until the volunteer quits.
                              Why don't they simply say they need a broad number of volunteers but don't have the ability to handle a large number of people on an ongoing basis, therefore they're asking for volunteers who are willing to test recipes for six months, or a year or whatever period they wish to establish.

                              Leaving the impression it is an ongoing thing, then sending "Dear John" letters, no matter how tactfully worded or elegant the stationary may be, is just plain bad public relations.

                              1. re: Suzy Q

                                Here is the poper way of handling.

                                Thank them (they did), explain the situation (they did) then tell them because they valued all their efforts ask them if they would mind curtailing their activitiy and if there was a course or cuisine that they would like to continue reviewing.

                                1. re: Suzy Q

                                  "Here's a theoretical question, though: For those of you who are offended by this, would it have been preferable for them to just have stopped sending recipes?"

                                  In this case I'd bet dollars to dumplings it would be a case of 'damned if they did' and 'damned if they didn't'. But what they did do in this case was have the courtesy to send an email with opening statements of thanking the person for their contributions and and explaining what those contributions meant. Again, I just don't get how this, or the rest of the contents of the email, can be construed by OP as some sort of heartless, nasty, or mean spirited communication.

                                  1. re: crt

                                    to answer your question, Nope

                                    There are numerous ways to handle this other than in a binary "you're in" or "you're out" method. People always comment about large corps here and jfood defends them most of the time. This is one area, employee relationship and disposing employees like paper towels that jfood does not agree with. This is in that bucket, so can;t agree with the methodology.

                                    1. re: crt

                                      Well, I'm curious what you think about my point, "Truth in advertising:? If they would just state in their recruitment statements that is a temporary commitment, situations such as this could easily be avoided.

                                  2. re: Suzy Q

                                    Frame it this way;

                                    Say to yourself- "In five years, will this matter?"

                                    'nuf said

                                    1. re: cooknKate

                                      Your response here seems a bit cavalier. In the long run, many things won't "matter". This doesn't mean that Sherri shouldn't feel hurt by what's just happened? I mean, if someone walked up to you and hit you in the chin with a big stick, your first thought as you crumble to the ground won't be, "In five years, will this matter?" Though, if there's still has an axe to grind in five years, well...

                                      1. re: cooknKate

                                        That doesn't mean that it doesn't matter right now.

                                        Not to dis chowhound, but frankly, 99% of what we discuss here "won't matter in 5 years"

                                    2. If you still want to test recipe, make up a new email addy and submit that. I have two email addresses that I get CI recipes from. If I still feel like making the recipes I'll just make up a different profile. If I don't, I won't. In other words, I'll decide whether I want to be "fired" or not. I view these web-based relationships for the impersonal, self-interest-driven vehicles they tend to be, and if -- as happens here at Chowhound -- I'm censored or otherwise shut down, I just re-emerge from the vast anonymity of the Web as someone else...

                                      1. I also received the email and was "fired," except unlike you I don't think I've ever actually submitted a response. I've made a bunch of the recipes, but for some reason it always takes me way longer than the due-date to finish up, so I don't get a chance to post my comments. I figured maybe they were just firing the slackers like me :) It does seem really weird, since there must be way more slackers like me than actual participants.

                                        1. OP here -- I’ve been away for the weekend, returning to find this small firestorm. Thanks for taking the time to share the interesting variety of opinions. As stated, my original intent for posting was to alert those of you who’d recently begun recipe testing for CI that there might be a, heretofore unannounced, end to your service. For those who wish to continue with CI, just be aware.

                                          The CI lesson has not been lost on me and this episode marks the end of my unpaid labor for any profit-making entity. From now on, I will say that in all honesty, I cannot recommend my free work.

                                          I was personally recruited to test recipes quite a number of years ago at a food professional conference. My service was not a result of a call for volunteers. In my capacity, I was diligent and that may be a part of the problem. With almost every recipe, I suggested changes. When small, nit-picking steps were called for, I worked out more efficient ways to create the same product. Home cooks do not need to wash six pans when two will suffice. I suggested many ingredient substitutions and over the years, I’ve received notes thanking me for being so thorough. Maybe that's why I was surprised by the cool, one size fits all, dismissal. Lesson learned.

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: Sherri

                                            Wow! To me that speaks volumes about CI. But I have also learned the hard way that when you're a professional, your services are only apopreciated when they are paid for at full value. It's a shame, but it's true. I think you've made the right decision. Too bad it was so hurtful reaching the conclusion.

                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                              I don't know about volumes but, to me, it does say some things about CI -all good.

                                              1st- their e-mail (the email fr:CI that Sherri posted, not the "dispicable", "unprofessional", "poorly worded and rather dismissive" one that others read somewhere). It's professional, well worded, expresses much gratitude and appreciation, acknowledges the contribution of the tester and the value of that contribution to the program, and provides a very good legitimate explanation as to the reason.
                                              2nd. If you're accepted as a tester, they'll probably going to let you do it for years. That's a pretty generous run.
                                              3rd. CI is trying to be fair and inclusive- providing a way for new testers to get in the program.
                                              4rth- I've always admired Chris Kimball professionally and from what I know, personally. That's just reinforced when compared to the lame comments and silly attempts to 2nd guess him/CI in this topic.

                                              1. re: ilikefood

                                                I think that someone who was recruited (not "accepted") as a volunteer and did a great deal of work over a period of several years deserves somehing better than a form letter.

                                                1. re: jlafler

                                                  jlafler, I couldn't agree more!

                                                  Sherri, I've been thinking about this. Sometimes "glitches" get in the works. The letter may have been a computer generated mistake. Have you considered calling them to see if it's what they intended to happen?

                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                    Since they've lost my heart, I'm choosing to "leave 'er lay where Jesus flang 'er" and not contact CI. We'll go our separate ways, officially divorced, with me being sadder and a bit wiser.

                                                    1. re: Sherri

                                                      Bless our heart! And I'll hold on to my fantasy that one day somebody will do the V-8 slap on their forehead and say, "Why haven't we heard from Sherri? She was GREAT!" But I do understand where you're coming from.

                                          2. I doubt that I have much to add that hasn't already been stated on both sides, other than my reaction. It kind of felt like I was back in high school and just got jilted by my girlfriend...I have only been a tester for about 18 mos., so not sure if I've really been dropped, or if I'm just being warned that she may want to date other people. Oh well.

                                            1. Interesting article in America Way (American Airlines in flite garbage) this month on ATK. It appearsthey send about 5,000 people the recipes and receive responses from about 20-200 testers.

                                              One would think with level of atrocious responses they would want to increase the number. Likewise if the OP was a good responder why the heck would you want to get rid of a good subgroup that represents, on a good day, 4% of your pool.

                                              Very strange.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: jfood

                                                My initial thought when I got the email was that they needed/wanted to purge their email system. IE, new server, upgrades, what have you. If the numbers you note from the article are correct, it would seem that it wouldn't be worth a lot of cost to bring all of those email addresses over to the new server (more complicated than most people would presume).

                                                All of that is a guess, of course.

                                              2. While I understand how you can be upset that your opinion no longer matters to ATK, it seems that they are doing this for a very pointed reason. All you have to do is take a few breaths and read the letter again.
                                                "In an effort to continue to expand our understanding of the landscape our readers face while preparing recipes, we will be refreshing our list of testers and looking for input from new cooks."
                                                It seems to me that they want cooks without as much experience as you simply so that they can gauge the issues, trials, and tribulations that an average cook will face. Sorry, but you are no longer average - you're way beyond. Overqualified for this position.

                                                Also, they used terms like, "thank you", "invaluable asset", and "appreciate your ongoing dedication". Sounds sincere, professional, and like they might know what they're doing.

                                                Also, you're more than welcome to continue being a recipe tester for them. Only now it will be after the recipes are published. Want to continue sharing your input? Do it here.

                                                17 Replies
                                                1. re: ChefDude

                                                  It would sound more sincere and professional to me if it weren't addressed to "Dear Friend." It's obviously a form letter, which makes the praise and thanks empty indeed. Many organizations that use volunteer labor find better ways to thank the people who have worked for them. I know next to nothing about ATK, but it sure does sound like they (and many of their defenders) think they're doing their volunteers a favor, rather than the other way around.

                                                  1. re: jlafler

                                                    I agree wholeheartedly. When you add the fact that she is a cooking professional and ATK recruited her specifically through personal contact, the letter sucks! But I do think there may be a chance that it was sent in error.

                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                      It's a mass email...her email was in the system as a tester. Contacting Cook's Illustrated and following up would likely solve all the questions, but its not nearly as fun as posting here and slamming the whole thing.

                                                      1. re: ccbweb

                                                        I must be totally insensitive -- what is the problem here? Did OP expect a free subscription? Some retroactive payment for "expense?" Did they not grovel enough w/gratitude for her services? Will she find some other activity to fill those non-testing hours? At a loss here...

                                                        1. re: Sarah

                                                          Let's put it this way: any organization that depends on volunteer labor needs to take care of its volunteers, partly because it's good to be nice to people who are helping you, partly to protect its own reputation and ability to attract volunteers. The main way organizations do this is to acknowledge volunteers' contributions appropriately. Some also do give thank-you gifts (such as a free subscription). In my opinion, an anonymous form letter email "thank you" isn't an appropriate recognition of what appears to have been hundreds of hours of work over several years. I'm perfectly willing to believe that this was an oversight due to incompetence, but that's not a very good excuse.

                                                          1. re: jlafler

                                                            You're overlooking the fact that there is a line of volunteers waiting to tak the place of anyone who quits or is "fired". As long as it's a buyers market they can do what they want.

                                                            That said, I still don't get what this tempest in a teapot is all about. They wanted some churn in their testing base and are thanking you for your past participation. You may not like the phraseology but no matter how they did it someone was going to be upset about being left out, this isn't high school, move on.

                                                            1. re: Scrapironchef

                                                              I was speaking in general terms. But do you really believe that as long as you can get away with something, it's okay?

                                                              1. re: jlafler

                                                                I won't bite on the words you're trying to put in my mouth.

                                                                I was just stating that as long as supply exceeds demand there are no curbs on behavior.

                                                                1. re: Scrapironchef

                                                                  You cant mean that. There may be no economic curbs on behavior but there are social and moral curbs. Humans and our orgs are not purely economic beings. Behaviour that does not acknowlege the other human factors has repercussions like this - and ill will can generate negative economic consequences.

                                                                  1. re: jen kalb

                                                                    jenkalb, it's a fact of life that "social and moral curbs" are a moving target. If you think that other individuals - much less corporations - should or will conform to any one ideal of behavior, well, I'm afraid you're in for disappointment. Like it or not, it's naive to believe that anyone or any group will always do the right thing *just* because it's the "right thing to do".

                                                                    1. re: Suzy Q

                                                                      of course. All I was saying is that the purely economic view is absurd and inadequate, whether in the corporate world or other sectors.

                                                                  2. re: Scrapironchef

                                                                    Not trying to put words in your mouth; trying to clarify what you're saying here.

                                                                    1. re: jlafler

                                                                      It's pretty clear that there is a line of people waiting to be testers for the mag that don't seem to care how they treated past testers.

                                                                      You were asking me what I believe, and loading the question with an assumptive stance. I don't really have a right or wrong stance on the issue, just a realistic view of the circumstances.

                                                                      Tempest in a teapot still applies in my book.

                                                                      1. re: Scrapironchef

                                                                        jfood was one of those replacement testers and he does care. He is very upset with what they did to the previous testers and has let ATK know his displeasure.

                                                                        Jfood also does not agree with your buyer's market comment. A market disequilibrium does not allow one to act in the manner ATK did. And hopefully for you and your loved ones, none of your bosses feel that way if s/he receives a bunch of resumes.

                                                                        1. re: jfood

                                                                          That may be true for you as an individual, but there are still a line of people waiting for the chance.

                                                                          Having worked most recently in manufacturing here in the states, my bosses did decide to go with the cheaper newer offer from overseas. My view is that being in a buyer's market does change behavior, you may disagree but there is little evidence to back it up.

                                                    2. re: ChefDude

                                                      I don't think it's that at all. They're not gauging how qualified this tester is or that tester is. (At least back when I worked there.) I think the (perhaps misguided) idea is probably to make sure they're not gearing recipes to the skills and the tastes of the SAME 20-30 people that have been testing and commenting for years, regardless of kitchen aptitude.

                                                      I think people here are imagining some staff statistician, a focus group coach, and a kitchen-skills-gauging expert tying responses to a particular participant. No way. In actuality, it's some temp-intern doing data entry into a Filemaker-style document that spits out stacks of comments for each of 15 recipes (very old-school), which are then pored through and discussed at a two-hour recipe meeting. Any negative comments, the test kitchen director decides whether the problem is in the recipe wording, or if it's really a taste issue (too garlicky, etc.), which means going back to the kitchen. Then that week's 150 pages of comments are tossed and the staff moves on. There's no time to analyze the participants, I promise you. Nor the skill set to know how to do it.

                                                      My guess is that Chris Kimball, half-listening during one random recipe meeting, had one of his notorious spur-of-the-moment epiphanies: "Hey, do we ever change up the participants in this SURVEY????" [use your grumpiest growl when you read that] The 10 people around the table kinda shrugged their shoulders, so he continued. "Why don't we change it up, then?" And so it was. The intern sitting at the meeting wrote up the form letter you got, some midlevel editor tweaked a few commas and signed off on it, and voila.

                                                      I promise you this is the most likely scenario.

                                                      I think it's perfectly valid to be angry with the result. But I'd suspect, after working there for years, that it's not as insidious or as carefully constructed as many of these posts are implying.

                                                      1. re: wittlejosh

                                                        Hah. Thanks for the insider perspective.

                                                    3. For those who think the letter sent from ATK was nice... It reminded me of a letter sent to Michelle Phillips, of The Mamas and The Papas... "Dear Michelle, Thank you for your services, but they are no longer needed...." That is how she found out she was being fired from the band.... nice, polite and cordial... (Of course she was later re-hired when they found out she was actually a huge part of the band's sound...)

                                                      In a nutshell, I think the letter was in poor taste. Chew on that, Mr. Kimball.

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                                        Trish, I'm afraid that I can't see how that comparison even has any relevance.

                                                        IMHO, josh's scenario is most likely spot-on.

                                                        1. re: Suzy Q

                                                          My point has nothing to do with Josh's hypothetical, imagined scenario.

                                                          My point is even though the language in the e-mail may seem "polite" to some, I think it is in bad taste.

                                                          I know e-mail is cheap and easy, but couldn't ATK at least have sprung for a nice "real mail" letter?"

                                                          What can I say, this generation also believes it is O.K. to break up with someone in a text message.

                                                          Maybe I am a dinosaur...but I'll always be a compassionate dino.

                                                          1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                                            First of all Trish, MP was a very large part of M&P which you and they acknowledged. To get rid of her via mail is just plain wrong.
                                                            Now, if John Phillips (Just pretend they don't know each other) asked her (and countless others) to take a look at some songs and see if she thought they were good and then later decided not to ask her again.Then send her (and countless others) a polite letter saying he wouldn't be requiring their services anymore. What's wrong with that? She reserves the right to be upset but ulitmately she's really not owed anything.

                                                            And no it is not okay to break up via email, text or any other non face to face method. Kids should be taught that.

                                                            DT

                                                            1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                                              Agree that it was in fairly bad taste. A nice letter and a parting gift as thanks for services would have been nicer and not prohibitively expensive.

                                                        2. As I recipient of that message, who is not a food professional, I have to agree with Sherri's point of view.

                                                          I volunteered as a tester a few years ago, with the intent of assiduously trying out every recipe I might be inclined to make. It turned out, over time, that I was able to try very few within the time constraints, and I assumed that's why I got the message. But it seems they sent it to everyone. Their intentions are probably valid and the "insider perspective" on Kimball certainly fits. But that's not how you treat volunteers helping a for-profit organization.

                                                          They could have done many small things to show their appreciation. For example, a free one year subscription to their website would have cost them nothing but the "opportunity" cost and would have showed that they gave a damn.

                                                          Consumer's Union is non-profit, but they don't expect reader volunteers to pick up their testing costs.

                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: embee

                                                            According to the stats jfood references above, there were about 5000 people on the email list....at the list price of $24.95 for a year's website membership that would be almost $125,000 in potential revenue gone.

                                                            Perhaps you mean that only "food professionals" or "frequent responders" should have been offered a year's free membership which would certainly be many less people and might not be a very large amount of potential revenue to forgoe...but we don't know whether what Sherri got was intended for her as a particular individual or intended as a mass clean-out of the email list. She'd have to contact them to ask about that.

                                                            1. re: ccbweb

                                                              Maybe Sherri could get in touch with CI and let them know she fells slighted and see if she can get some clarification.

                                                              DT

                                                              1. re: Davwud

                                                                Seems like it'd be a reasonable way to go before being truly upset by it. If it was an oversight or something that was a result of her also being on the main email list that would be a very different thing for her than what the current scenario presents.

                                                                I most often feel that in a customer service or other similar sort of situation (ie, something like this...not a customer per se, but an interaction) the way an outfit or person responds is even more important than the first action. A corollary, if you will, to the adage that "its not the crime, its the cover up." In this case, that'd be if she gets in touch and they say "yeah, thanks but no thanks," then after the efforts and situation she describes I could see being irked by it; but if they said "oh wow, we're so sorry, of course we would love for you to keep testing" then it's a whole different problem that took place initially and she would feel good about the resolution.

                                                              2. re: ccbweb

                                                                If you've ever done any serious marketing research, you know that the cost per respondent is not trivial. And if you've ever tested recipes professionally, you know that ingredients are paid for and remuneration is provided. CI is getting a gift.

                                                                If you sign up and do nothing, you should get nothing. But even a couple of reviews deserve that ("soft") $25. If the numbers given are even close to accurate, they would be providing a few hundred free subscriptions at most. If the value received doesn't justify that expense, they should cancel the program altogether.

                                                                I have issues with many CI business practices. I'm not upset about being dropped, but I would have been really pissed off had I responded more often. A small token of appreciation would have been nice. Face it, their food obsession doesn't extend to an obsession with customer service. Chris Kimball is a professional "character", but I can't help but suspect that he's also just cheap.

                                                                1. re: embee

                                                                  In the anonymous world of the internet, it's always dicey to presume that one has or hasn't done X or to lead with "if you've ever..."

                                                                  That aside, my mention of "frequent responders" and the rest of that thought was essentially agreeing with you that it wouldn't be an unreasonable thing to think that CI could have provided those folks with something along the lines of a free year of online membership as a thank you gift.

                                                                  I disagree with you about the idea that those who responded a couple of times deserve anything. There was no requirement to respond and no requirement to make any recipe or dish nor to spend a particular amount on the ingredients for those dishes. The people who responded to the recipes were not acting in any professional capacity, regardless of what their own personal profession is. They were not required to test the recipes in the manner of a professional recipe tester. In my mind, choosing to spend money on, basically, playing with/testing the not-yet-fully tested and published recipes is a hobby one can choose to participate in or not. Some hobbies cost more than others but they're free to choose.

                                                                  Again, Sherri sounds like she's a unique case, so not everything I'm suggesting generally will necessarily apply to her and a different response might be far more appropriate from CI to her.

                                                            2. I've also been a recipe tester for CI/ATK for the last couple of years, and received the same email. While I was disappointed, it wasn't that big of a deal. I understand that lots of people might be interested in doing this and they do have to control the numbers of people participating to some extent. As to the expense, yeah, some of the recipes were pricey to make but heck, if you thought it was too pricey, then don't make it! There was never any obligation to make all or any of the recipes they sent. Out of maybe two dozen recipes they sent me to try, I only had the time/desire/etc. to make maybe half a dozen.