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Christopher Kimball in the NYT Magazine

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  1. "... two intrepid observations Kimball has made about the innermost psychology of home cooks. Namely that they 1) are haunted by a fear of humiliation, and 2) will not follow a recipe to the letter, believing that slavishly following directions is an implicit admission that you cannot cook."

    Preach.

    1. Even though I'm a Kimball-hater, I thought that was an excellent article

      In some ways it diffuses my dislike for the man (and other ways reinforces, lol).

      1. The story spells out exactly what he does and why, and puts Cook's Illustrated and the TV shows in perspective. I haven't tried many of the America's Test Kitchen recipes - too finicky for me - but at least now I know why they're so finicky.

        1. Kimball's personality aside, the problem I've always had with ATK and the premise behind the "Best Recipe" concept is that the recipe they finally herald as the end-all, be-all is often really NOT the best. It may be foolproof, and maybe that's what Kimball's disciples are after, but in my experience, tweaking the recipe to add flavor, complexity, or personal preferences is likely to make "the best" even better.

          Also, some of their techniques are questionable. I saw a show recently -- can't recall if it was ATK or Cook's Country -- where they were doing stir frys -- in a skillet (it might have been electric). Now, I suppose one can do that, but to my way of thinking, a stir fry is, by definition, done in a wok, and the end result of a stir fry done in a wok is not going to be the same as that done in a skillet.

          14 Replies
          1. re: CindyJ

            The ATK/CC people, among others, have pointed out that woks are properly used over a very high heat source - a lot hotter than possible in most home kitchens, even those with gas burners. The stove should have a recessed opening that cradles the wok so as to heat the entire bottom, or a ring should be used atop a flat gas burner to channel the flame. For the home cook,with an electric stove, a skillet or saucier may be necessary to achieve enough heat for the fast, hot cooking that is the essence of stir-frying. "The end result of a stir fry done in a wok"....in a home kitchen is not going to be the same as that done in an Asian restaurant wok.

            1. re: greygarious

              " "The end result of a stir fry done in a wok"....in a home kitchen is not going to be the same as that done in an Asian restaurant wok."

              Well, of course it won't. There are many things done in restaurants that home cooks cannot do, and sure, the result at home will not replicate the result achieved by a professional chef in a professionally equipped kitchen, but that doesn't mean that a home cook shouldn't use specialized equipment that functions well beyond adequate. It's more about using the right tool for the right job. A wok used in a home kitchen can perform quite well, even if the heat source doesn't replicate that of an Asian restaurant kitchen.

              1. re: CindyJ

                "The right tool for the job" isn't really what Kimball's empire is about - rather, the tools that a reasonably well equipped home cook will already have. That's what you see on the TV shows and presumably what they use in the test kitchens. Has Julia Child or Jacques Pépin ever used a wok in their TV shows? Not that I've ever seen. There's nothing wrong with using the technique of stir-frying in a skillet, sauté pan, or whatever you have, and I taste nothing wrong in the results I get. Authentic or not.

                1. re: John Francis

                  If having ""The right tool for the job" isn't really what Kimball's empire is about" why does ATK so often tout the high-priced Thermapen when there are so many other instant-read thermometers that will perform about as well for a fraction of the price?

                  1. re: CindyJ

                    >> when there are so many other instant-read thermometers that will perform about as well for a fraction of the price?

                    I don't think this is true. Thermapen can't be matched by cheaper probe thermometers for speed and reliability.

                    Mr Taster

                    1. re: Mr Taster

                      I own a Thermapen and I also own two Taylor instant-read thermometers with small dials (not digital). Believe me, I have wanted to prove to myself that there was a reason for spending nearly $90 on this "gotta-have" tool, and I've done countless side-by-side comparisons. But truth is, the cheapo Taylors are almost as fast and just as accurate as the Thermapen. That said, I think it's kind of fun to use the Thermapen, and it does register the temp in tenths of a degree (soooooo important!), but is it worth the additional $80...? Nah!

                      1. re: CindyJ

                        I've had three different instant read thermometers by Taylor and Polder give up the ghost before their first birthdays. Could just be bad luck, but I got sick of playing roulette. My thermapen has been working just fine for several years now, with very regular use. IMO, you're really paying for better construction, durability, and reliability when you buy a thermapen, not the modest increase to speed and accuracy.

                      2. re: Mr Taster

                        >>>
                        >> when there are so many other instant-read thermometers that will perform about as well for a fraction of the price?

                        I don't think this is true. Thermapen can't be matched by cheaper probe thermometers for speed and reliability.
                        <<<

                        I almost agree with you Mr. Taster. I probably tried a dozen different digital thermometers and almost all of them have come up wanting. Usually the range is too narrow and the response time is too slow. However I've had this one http://www.amazon.com/CDN-DTQ450X-Pro... for about 15 years and for less than 20 bucks it's as close to the Thermapen as you can get. If Santa hadn't and bought me a Thermapen a few years back I would be using this one exclusively.

                        1. re: al b. darned

                          My only objection,minor,to the CDN is that requires re-calibration on a regular basis.It's my #2,thermapen is my #1.

                      3. re: CindyJ

                        In fairness, the CI magazine reviews usually rate the "best" item, often high priced, and then also rate an alternative, less costly item, as the "best value" choice.

                        1. re: CindyJ

                          Well, we must keep in mind that it's the "job" that's really different...when one is making the same recipe over and over and trying to keep certain factors "controlled" in the test kitchen, accurate readings ARE important. As a manufacturing quality manager in the aerospace business, I for one, really appreciate the scientific approach that ATK/CC uses in developing their recipes. In my kitchen at home, the digital thermometer/timer with the probe that goes into the oven is fine for what I use it for. I'm not about to make 20 pork roasts to determine the best ingredients or processes, but if I did, I'd want to make sure I had the most accurate tools I could get my hands on.

                      4. re: CindyJ

                        " "The end result of a stir fry done in a wok"....in a home kitchen is not going to be the same as that done in an Asian restaurant wok."

                        So how did it get so popular among home cooks in China?

                        1. re: EWSflash

                          Home cooks in China/Taiwan have 1) unregulated stovetops, so the flames can get as big as the gas tank valve will open and 2) many have pit style stoves so part of the wok nests below the surface level of the cooktop.

                          Mr Taster

                    2. re: CindyJ

                      A long time ago I realized that good food is the result of good technique and good ingredients (the former probably edging out the latter by a hair). The "recipe," or what finally goes in tends to be more about personal preference.

                      ATK gets this concept down completely, and will focus on technique more so than the "recipe." When they come out with the "end all be all" it tends to be due to exhaustive research on technique and they save us a lot of money, time and trouble.

                    3. Confirms why I can't stand him. We do not approach cooking in the same way at all.

                      12 Replies
                      1. re: rasputina

                        You really "can't stand" him just because you don't approach cooking the same way? Isn't that a kind of harsh term?

                        1. re: ttoommyy

                          I can't stand him either - because he comes off so officiously preachy, and is so absolutist. And myopic. That officiousness and absolutism and myopia are the differences between how he and I approach cooking. So, I get what rasputina said, and yeah, its harsh!

                          1. re: saticoy

                            Fair enough. I guess I just find it difficult to say such things about someone you know only from TV and a magazine article. That you don't agree with him; find him difficult to watch and listen to; that you dislike his philosophy of cooking; all those things I can understand. Also, maybe I'm thinking of "can't stand" as synonymous with "hate" and that is unfair of me; you and rasputina probably do not "hate" CK.

                            1. re: ttoommyy

                              I don't hate him. I can't stand watching him though. He makes all kinds of assumptions as how things "should be" and acts like they are universal assumptions. He does it on his show and he did it in the article. Someone else called him pompous and he comes off that way to me.

                              1. re: rasputina

                                "He makes all kinds of assumptions as how things "should be" and acts like they are universal assumptions."

                                Very well put. This is my biggest quarrel with him.

                          2. re: ttoommyy

                            I didn't say because. The two sentences stand alone.

                            1. re: rasputina

                              I read them as one thought. Sorry.

                          3. re: rasputina

                            I don't hate him but I don't want to eat with him and I don't think he knows or likes good food. I ike bow ties and I don't mind dweebs but I really dislike eating/discussing/being around people who don't like food and still talk about it. The staff is usually good.

                            1. re: JudiAU

                              i cannot fathom how someone could read his magazines and watch his television show and come to the conclusion he doesn't know or like good food.

                              1. re: linus

                                Really? He fears spice of all kind, he can't tolerate heat of any level, his appreciation of anything more ethnic than 1950s farm food is absurd. It isn't just that he prefers simple food or home cooked food, he actively dislikes any food that requires thought or experience.

                                "The readers’ prejudices dovetail neatly with Kimball’s. “We’re doing Saag Paneer,” he announced one morning. “Everyone here loved it except me — all that army green goop, you’ve got to be out of your mind! But we publish what our readers want, not what Christopher Kimball wants. I’m happier eating hoagies.”

                                1. re: JudiAU

                                  reaching the conclusion "he actively dislikes any food that requires thought or experience" because you think "he fears spice of all kind" is utter hyperbole.

                                  does only spicy food require thought or experience?

                                  have you watched the show? they've cooked food with spice. he's eaten it. he said he liked it. how do you know he was lying?
                                  on the television show, he often talks about his trips abroad and how much he enjoyed the food. was he lying?

                                  1. re: linus

                                    I agree with JudiAU's statement that he likes simple food over complex meals. Even though he'll taste and say he likes other foods, you can tell that's not his preference - the enthusiasm is just not there.

                                    I laugh during the taste tests because he almost-always picks the cheapest item. You just have to watch a few episodes and realize his opinion on things is not always what you want - Chris does not do complex layers, and certainly not spice. To him, black pepper is 'the hot stuff'.