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ATK/CI/CC and the potato salad debacle

Sorry if this is posted elsewhere. I got onto this through another site, and was fully entertained all afternoon reading the comments. I think that Cook's Illustrated must be a pretty unhappy place at the moment.


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  1. That was amazing and disgusting and mindboggling. Thanks for sharing that link. I'm shaking my head in disbelief at those stooopid ATK folks -- and it may not be Chris Kimball. My god, if you think what that blogger did was pilfering, take a look at Martha Steward, infamous for copying recipes without attribution.

    1. Wow.

      There is something so UNwholesome about the online triumvirate of ATK/CI/CC. Years ago I went hunting for a recipe and they demanded an email address. I had always walked away when confronted with this kind of strong arming but I really wanted the recipe. I coughed it up and soon after asked to be removed from their spam list. I asked three times to no avail and finally had to block them at the ISP level as they cleverly slid through my spam filters. It left such a bad taste I pretty much avoid anything to do with them.

      I finally had to block ATK emails at the ISP level.

      Funnily enough I can't remember which recipe I 'had to have.'

      1. The more and more we hear things, the more this company's reputation plummets. On top of which they seem to have a Jekyll and Hyde aura to them. I'm tempted to stop watching their television show -- which I really enjoy -- because of the unctuous ways they handle all their other ventures.

        1 Reply
        1. re: HarryK

          Customer service there is absymal. I attempted to cancel my online subscription to CI. It literally took me months of emails, phone calls and letters to obtain a proper credit to my credit card. And talk about attitude! I think that this "Deborah" person is the corporate role model for customer service. I will not give CI, CC or ATK any more of my business, no thank you. I am so over this whole company and CK's phony country hick schtick.

        2. Wow. This just shows what complete idiots they are at Cooks Illustrated!

          I found it interesting that the publicity company shut the conversation down after the blogger wrote her: "However, I was just informed by a wonderful cook friend that lists of ingredients are not copyrighted, only method. So I know how to avoid the land mines next time, yes? Later." Looks like Deborah Publicity Lady knew that the blogger had it right - and just said "Stop Emailing me."

          And their list of ingredients is nothing special - all this brouhaha over nothing. Yowza, that publicity company really doesn't get it when they've pissed someone off, it gets back out there hundredfold on the various blogs and message boards, doesn't it? Yet one other reason to avoid ATK/CI/CC like the plague if they attempt additional strong-arming like this and their collection agency.

          I love that the blogger re-posted the recipe for the potato salad saying "INSPIRED BY (UGH) you know who and you know from where... f***ers". :-)

          1. This little story seems to confirm that the Kimble Konglomerate is rotten beyond its marketing department. That's sad, because for the most part I think that they have a good product.

            On a more general note, the story is an example of a company's not understanding the way that information and opinions move around in the modern world. As the blogger points out, what she was doing could only have helped. She was getting the word out about them, and implicitly endorsing them to her readers, who presumably value her opinions. It's hard to buy publicity that good. Now, if the blogger had been creating a free searchable index of ATK recipes, that would be another thing entirely.

            4 Replies
            1. re: mhoffman

              I think someone else had it right, it's the bow-tie thing. It's a well-established medical fact that if you wear them too often it restricts the amount of blood flow to the brain and causes confusion and irrationality.

              1. re: mhoffman

                It's not really a question of understanding communications. It's intimidation and misdirection as a matter of policy. Companies have to be able to prove that they aggresively defend their trademarks and copyrights or they could lose legal use of them in a real court case. That causes no end of frustration for small businesspeople (and bloggers) who get caught up by companies overstepping their bounds. The aggresive defenders count on the fact that the small business person won't know their legal rights and will be cowed into giving in.

                The Spouse, who is an attorney, and his co-workers have no end of stories about clients being bullied by companies with attitude. The only answer is to know your rights and, when you're in the right, tell them where to stick their Cease & Desists! (Also know that they have more money than you and a law firm on retainer. It pays to know when to stop being the hero.)

                1. re: rockycat

                  I know very little about defending copyrights, so I'll defer to your expertise. However, if what ATK is doing is just good business practice, then the system that incentivises this behavior is really messed up.

                2. re: mhoffman

                  >>"This little story seems to confirm that the Kimble Konglomerate is rotten beyond its marketing department. That's sad, because for the most part I think that they have a good product."<<

                  my feelings exactly. i wish someone with a crappier magazine/cookbooks would pull this kind of stuff.

                3. I agree, they probably have bigger badder attorneys, but that is just too sad and misfortunate that they allowed this Deborah woman to carry on such an immature email conversation that is being posted everywhere. Deborah was absolutely condescending and egging the blogger on to confront her with her "obviously you're having a had day...etc" crap.

                  With such a nasty tone and to assume the blogger was having a bad day? Unbelievable and I find it really funny that Deborah is so confident to proudly announce her tenure. What is even funnier to me, is that the cooks in the test kitchen make 100 attempts to test a recipe to get it right? Someone at that organization needs to step in and trim the fat.

                  Another tip would be, perhaps the IT department at ATK can help Deborah figure out how to block unwanted email rather than allowing her to make such an ass out of herself and the company she has worked at for 14 years. Just unbelieveable, and I'm so glad I am no longer a subscriber.

                  But really, is the recipe any good?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: chef chicklet

                    Deborah came off sounding like a petty person with a boring job who gets her jollies by throwing around the weight of the Big Publisher legal department. I hope she's enjoying be trashed up one side of the information superhighway and down the other for her snotty attitude.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      hoo ha! That's an image to remember... "up one side of the information superhighway and down the other for her snotty attitude." I wouldn't mind being trashed with such sass!

                  2. I think that the best thing to come out of this is the massive support that the blogger received from her online community. She herself seemed taken aback by it, and it is rather heartwarming in the face of such irresponsible, unprofessional correspondence sanctioned by the bowtie crew. I wrote the company citing this debacle as the reason why they will no receive my business, and reassuring them that I will actively encourage my acquaintances to make their own choice in light of this incident.

                    1. I thought the conversation was somewhat immature on both sides -- not that the CI author had a leg to stand on.

                      Regarding the larger issue at hand - I publish recipes often, and will use established recipes as a guide for ratios*. (For potato salad, I might note the potato to mayo ratio, or in baking, the flour to baking powder, etc.) These aren't things I know intuitively and I am too lazy to do trial and error on the basic stuff. I then modify the recipe according to my tastes, and totally rewrite the procedures after I do them -- I almost always find an easier/more interesting way to do some part of it.

                      So, whose recipe is it? Of course, I feel it is mine. I do have this irrational fear that if I ever retest & modify them to publish in book format I'll subconsciously revert back to the original recipe somehow and be unethical -- but even if I did it exactly, it wouldn't be copyright infringement.

                      * ETA: I have to say that it is perhaps ironic that I have & would not look to CI to model my recipes on -- their recipes do somehow seem more propriatary (sp) than others, which is something that they obviously try to cultivate. I will also say that while I used to find their narratives interesting, I got tired of them after a couple of years. (Sometimes when slogging through the "we tried this and we tried that," I just wanted to say, "Get on with it!").

                      I would argue that it is really the narrative about their recipes that they are selling and the idea that the recipes are a sort of perfect manifestation of their type. I have never found them to live up to the promise, however.

                      1. Wow. Someone was really unclear on the concept. The magazine asked that (1) the blogger not use their recipe without permission, and (2) the blogger not modify the recipe. But if someone modifies their recipe, then IT'S NOT THEIR RECIPE ANYMORE, thus permission is not required. What part of that do they not understand?

                        I can see them being upset if someone modifies the recipe and then says it's the magazine's -- that would be putting their name and reputation on the line for a potentially inferior recipe. But hassling her when she clearly said that she'd modified their recipe is so far beyond ridiculous they can't see ridiculous in their rearview mirror.

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          The thing that makes this whole issue truly laughable is that entire premise of ATK is based on doing the exact same thing they are accusing the blogger of doing. They brag about it in the opening of every show. Their test kitchen tries dozens of different recipes for that weeks' topic, they decide none of them are any good, they figure out where they all went wrong and then proceed to show you their perfect recipe. Isn't that exactly what they are accusing this poor blogger of doing? The only difference is that the blogger was nice enough to give them credit for the original failed recipe. ATK has never done that in any episode I have seen. I guess we all know why now.

                          1. re: DDR4040

                            Oh, that is rich! Love the irony!

                            Yes, ATK always reviews the recipes that didn't quite work and why at the beginning of the TV show, and then corrects them.

                            1. re: DDR4040

                              "The only difference is that the blogger was nice enough to give them credit for the original failed recipe. "
                              and i suspect therein lies the heart of the matter. the cook's country recipe turned out to be inferior, and this fool, deborah, was trying to save face by threatening the blogger who exposed their crappy potato salad.

                              the entire situation is moronic.

                              i've never seen this particular blog before today, but it's now included in my folder of bookmarked food blogs because the author absolutely earned my respect the way she brought this out in the open.

                              ETA: on today's page, melissa [the blogger involved in the ATK debacle] posted a link to this washington post interview with chris kimball. i won't even begin to comment because i have a response to pretty much everything he said. feel free to judge for yourselves, but personally i think he comes across as a pompous fool with his head up his ass...


                              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                Wow! What an arrogant, dogmatic, pompass a** ! I took issues with pretty much everything he said. Contrary to most posters here on this board, I never liked the recipes from Cook's Illustrated. And they won't stop sending me that same damn issue for Cook's Country!

                                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                  EEEKKKK! I am so amazed, what a bonehead. What planet is he from anyway?

                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                    Is he for real??
                                    While I agree you have to be smart about cooking, it really does come from the heart. You have to love it or it will never be any good. And love comes from the heart, not the head.

                                    TBH, I thought he came off like a real Jack Ass.

                                    "I think the gourmet cooking thing is over. That happened in the '70s"


                                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                      Good lord, what a sanctimonious twit he is. Someone needs to tie that bowtie a bit tighter to shut him up.

                                      Just because *he* says his recipe is perfect doesn't mean it is to anyone else! Everyone's tastes are different. Obviously, since the blogger chose to alter it.

                                      Articles like that just make me glad I never bought anything from CI other than "The Best Recipe" cookbook (and bought that at B&N, so no harassment from CI to subscribe to the magazine!). I've used it once. I found their overly detailed, long-winded descriptions of why this is the only way to do something very offputting. They talk down to people and seem to find that OK.

                                      1. re: LindaWhit

                                        "Articles like that just make me glad I never bought anything from CI other than "The Best Recipe" cookbook "
                                        between this article & that ridiculous to-do over the blog posting, i'm pretty sure i won't renew my CI subscription...although i'm sure they'll try to continue to charge me for it. it also irks me that i finally broke down a few months ago & purchased a couple of those damn cookbooks for myself & my mom.

                                        i stopped watching ATK on TV a while ago because something about chris kimball gave me the creeps...and now i certainly don't want to watch him again!

                                    2. re: DDR4040

                                      That's kinda my point. If the recipe was so bloody perfect why did the blogger feel she needed to alter it??

                                      And Ruth is Right. I heard Michael Smith (Chef at Home/Large, The Inn Chef) once say to make a recipe as writen, see how you liked it, then make the changes to suit your tastes and it's yours.

                                      I love ATK and my CI books and magazines but these people are down right sleezy. I'm really considering never giving them a cent of my money again.


                                      PS, FWIW, I wouldn't have bothered to credit CI for the recipe or if I had would've said it was inspired by.

                                  2. As someone who spent 18 months writing response emails to people who had initially contacted my company to complain about services rendered, I’m pretty amazed at the exchange. Never, Never, NEVER should Deborah have participated in any of that exchange. Her job was simply to ask the blogger to remove the recipe and to explain the rules, THAT’S IT. Her responses were self-indulgent, condescending, and very unprofessional. It doesn’t matter if the blogger was being (perhaps) a bit petty.

                                    That said, I think CI must be so possessive of their recipes because they don’t have enough. I’ve stopped purchasing their cookbooks because they’re all the same. (no, wait! This is the really, really, REALLY best recipe!)

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: sebetti

                                      That's one of the reasons I stopped getting the magazine; they were repeating themselves. Almost as much as Kimball repeats himself in his "golly I'm really not a twit I'm a manly hunting mapling Vermonter" editorials.

                                      1. re: jmckee

                                        "golly I'm really not a twit I'm a manly hunting mapling Vermonter"
                                        The state of Vermont is SO screwed if that's the case. ;-)

                                    2. ATK/CI's Deborah outdoes herself with the following quote:
                                      ".....we get daily updates every day...."

                                      Res ipsa loquitor

                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: Sherri

                                        She must work in the Department of Redundancy Departmet.


                                        1. re: Davwud

                                          Thanks for my morning laugh! I just made coffee and sat down to read the latest posts; am mopping up the keyboard right now. The Department of Redundancy Department is bloody brilliant!

                                          1. re: Sherri

                                            Glad I could be of...er... help!!


                                          2. re: Davwud

                                            My favorite redundancy was a woman interviewer who said to her guest "Tell me about your upcoming programs coming up and your ongoing programs going on." I had that one tacked on the board in my (editorial) office for a long time. I'm also a fan of the phase "win a victory."

                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                              I love the sports casters who say that a team has "Won their last seven in a row."


                                              1. re: Davwud

                                                The ever-popular weather-person reporting "Tonight's temperature will be dropping down ....."
                                                What? Does it usually drop UP? ACROSS? THROUGH? (choose preposition of choice) Drop down indeed!
                                                My husband is always amused while I shout corrections at the television set.

                                                1. re: Sherri

                                                  You know that person has "A great future ahead of them". As opposed to behind them.


                                          3. re: Sherri

                                            I too laughed at your remark last night, if nothing else, Deborah sure makes a great butt for a joke eh?

                                          4. The whole thing kinda sucks, but I really love CI so I give them some slack. Who else tests a recipe a million times? Whenever I make one of their recipes( and I have a whole slew of them I make over and over), I know they'll work. I know it will be the best version( that I've ever tasted too).

                                            They have a program called Friends of Cook's where you can sign up to test recipes that will be published in future issues. So many of those people just go right ahead and post them in their foodblog. They'll get an email from CI asking them to take it down and they can't believe it.

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: Calipoutine

                                              With all due respect calipoutine. I in this case just can cut them any slack. The person that started this thread was letting us know about a certain Deborah person that is spouting off crap and being a bully.

                                              That unfortunately doesn't have a lot to do with Cooks, but regardless it's guilty by association. The fish stinks from the head down, and Christopher Kimbell is a jerk and if you think he is unaware that the whole blogger incident didn't happen, then read the piece associate with the link above that goodhealthgourmet provides. There is something wrong when you think you are untouchable, unreachable, and so above all that you don't have a worry. He doesn't interview as if he is "with it", and his arrogance is only outdone by his ignorance.

                                              1. re: chef chicklet

                                                I read the interview. He is who he is, I dont think he tries to pretend he is someone else. Personally, I dont care about his views, his arrogance whatever. All I really care about is the food.

                                                Btw, how was the Pineapple Upside down cake?

                                                1. re: Calipoutine

                                                  Sorry it failed, I must of done something wrong, it was full of juice. Probably the fresh pineapple was so juicy and when it was cooked, it just let the rest of its juice go. Oh but it got eaten, it was gone that day. Next time maybe not suce a ripe pineapple. ( I did leave you a messge in the that thread, but I couldn't find it again?)

                                                  1. re: chef chicklet

                                                    Or maybe there was something wrong with the recipe ;-)

                                                    1. re: embee

                                                      I've made that recipe 4 times and each time its been a success. Did you cook down the juice? Also, you're not supposed to add the extra juice back into the cooked mixture after it drains. You want a nice thick caramel syrup. I'd try it again, it really does work.