I'd like to thank Bobbi of Bobbi's Kozy Kitchen for bringing this to my attention. Wednesday, after I published the Marinara recipe, I was online and saw that she was bewildered by an article she read on the International Association of Culinary Professionals website entitled Opinion: Faking It by Amy Reiley. I don't want to summarize her sentiments so if you want any of what I am about to write to make sense, please read her blog post now.
Here, I'll wait....Done? Okay.
I found myself in unfamiliar territory because I enjoy sharing my food and it has always been a positive experience for me, but this article angered me. Even though I felt Ms. Reiley took a shot at me and my community of passionate food bloggers, I wanted to take the high road and tried to make my reaction constructive. The moderator stopped publishing new comments but I know they received it because I subscribed to the comments feed and got replies.
I wrote to the author:
I am the author of a small food blog but not professionally trained in culinary arts. I am that novice "stay-at-home father" that you write about so passionately.
Ms. Reiley, I think what might help your argument is to define the difference between "professionals" and "hobbyists" because if the corporations such as Folgers Coffee or Sara Lee pays a food blogger (with no formal culinary training) to develop recipes using their products, are they still amateurs? If I am Dannon Yogurt, I'm not going to hire any idiot that set up a free website last Saturday afternoon on a whim. I do agree that it’s utterly foolish not to test the recipes these home cooks produce, but each business must find what works best for them.
Conversely, I've seen numerous challengers compete on Iron Chef America that have had no formal culinary training and went to "the school of hard knocks". Should we still call them professionals?
The other issue you fail to discuss is the prospective each food blogger contributes. I clearly state on my website that I am not a professional, yet I attempt dishes with difficult preparation, uncommon cooking methods, or items that are taken for granted (and can easily be bought at any local supermarket) in an endeavor to learn something with my audience. If anything, I'm trying to prove the point that the crap pushed at consumers by corporations is prepared better at home and any schmuck can replicate it. Most bloggers share similar points of view and see it more as an educational experience. Are we "dumbing down" the culinary profession or are we making our audiences smarter by learning from our experiences?
I’m not proficient enough to develop my own recipes yet, so if anything, I’m paying professional publishers to test their recipes for them by buying their cookbooks or watching their television shows. If I ever get to that point, I wouldn’t publish anything I wouldn’t be proud of or publish my mistakes with notes to my audience how to avoid my failures.
Ultimately, and with all decisions at the corporate level in this day and age, it comes down to a business decision. Each professional chef has developed their own styles and preferences of preparing food so professional publications must appeal to the home cook because it’s a much wider audience. Recipes contained in Gourmet Magazine might sound daunting (in the name itself) to a mom who’s worked a full eight hour day and must feed 2 screaming kids and a hungry husband dinner. I’m not a fan of Rachel Ray’s food, but I can see the appeal because she’s relatable. Am I correct to assume that your concern lies solely with those corporations that outsource recipe development to people with no formal training and then fail to test the recipe production? Then please direct your concern towards food journalists and food manufacturers and leave us passionate home cooks and food bloggers alone.
It was only after I wrote this that I realized I forgot to point out that food bloggers with no professional training who are hired by food manufacturers to develop recipes represent a small percentage of the food blogging community.
I'm also reminded of an experience I had about a year ago when I hosted a dinner party for some friends. I prepared a pasta dish I got online from a celebrity chef who instructed the cook to blanch broccoli rabe then put said rabe in a skillet with hot oil. You can imagine what occurred: The rabe splattered all over the place and created a scene. It occurred to me after reading this article that this recipe wasn't adequately tested because I ran into the recipe again recently and he updated it so this won't occur.
I believe Ms. Reiley has some legitimate complaints, but her anger should be directed to the people who hire food bloggers so cheaply. Kimmy of Lighter and Local also published her thoughts regarding the matter and her remarks reflect the general consensus among the food bloggers I spoke to. I don't speak for everybody, so tell me: Do you agree? Let me know by leaving me a comment.
May 20th, 2012 Update: IACP has done some back tracking and published comments (including mine) from the original post. You can read the update here.
Now, off the soapbox and back to the fun: The food!
Since you gave me permission (by reading my sentiments above) to rant, I thought I'd leave you with this recipe, however it was never intended to be published here for several reasons:
1. There isn't much originality to it
2. The preparation method is too simple for what I am trying to achieve with this website.
3. It's not authentic Japanese.
4. I didn't take pictures while preparing it.
I used this picture as my profile picture on facebook for a few days because I am trying to improve my photography and plating skills. Again, this is more of a Mildly Disturbed Foodie Stunt with the only redeeming quality being the sauce wasn't store-bought.
Adapted from page 330 of America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook Third Edition.
8 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons mirin, sweet sherry or dry white wine
2 teaspoons ginger, grated
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon corn starch
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, then season with black pepper. Heat the oil in a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add the chicken skin-side down. Weigh down the chicken with a heavy pot. Cook until the skin is a deep mahogany brown and very crisp, 15 to 20 minutes. (Check the chicken after 10 minutes. The skin should be moderately brown but if it's very brown, reduce the heat but if it's still pale, raise the heat.)
2. Remove the weight and turn the chicken. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook without the weight until the second side is brown and the chicken is thoroughly cooked, about 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, whisk together the soy sauce, sugar, mirin, ginger, garlic, corn starch, and red pepper flakes.
4. Transfer the chicken to a plate. Pour off all of the fat from the skillet. Re-whisk the soy mixture to recombine, then add to the skillet and return to medium heat. Return the chicken to the skillet, skin-side up and spoon the sauce over the top. Continue to simmer until the sauce is thick and glossy, about 2 minutes.
I'll have more Crazy Foodie Stunts in the future...