Monday, June 2, 2008
One of my diversions on the road are various food blogs that are out there. This was in the WSJ last Wednesday:
Latest Web Bloggers Give Cooking The Books a Whole New Meaning
May 28, 2008; Page B6
Generic food blogs are the scrambled eggs of culinary blogging. They require little in the way of skill and next to nothing in terms of equipment -- just a digital camera and a broadband connection.
A particular kind of food blog, however, has become the genre's Canard a la Presse Tour d'Argent. These are "cook-through" blogs, in which someone picks a cookbook and then doesn't stop cooking and blogging until the dishes for every recipe have been washed and put away.
Excerpts from cookbooks and the bloggers who are slicing and dicing their way through every recipe.The necessary ingredient: You need to be a little crazy.
Carole Blymire, a Washington, D.C., public-relations consultant, for example, has been writing "French Laundry at Home" since last year. With no real cooking experience beyond Thanksgiving dinner, she is tackling the 130 or so recipes in Thomas Keller's "French Laundry Cookbook," which may be the most technically challenging American cookbook ever written.
No matter, says Ms. Blymire, "I just opened it up and said to myself, 'Let's see what happens.' "
The site has become a huge hit in the food blogosphere, winning awards and attracting 4,000 to 5,000 visitors a day. It also has become the template for many other such cook-along blogs, with pictures of the dish at various stages of development and a rating of the final result. Personal asides are often folded in as well. (These are, after all, blogs.) Ms. Blymire uses a Miss Smartypants persona and often brags of her two loves: New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and bacon.
Cook-along bloggers say they start projects for any number of reasons: to learn culinary basics, to expand a cooking repertoire or simply to prove to themselves that they can stick with a big project from beginning to end.
Ryan S. Adams, who works in Austin for computer-graphics company Nvidia, says he was inspired by Ms. Blymire's work to start on "The Whole Beast," the offal-and-all British coobook that has a cult following in the foodie world. With dishes like "Cold Lamb's Brains on Toast," Mr. Adams says finding willing diners can sometimes be as challenging as the cooking. Ditto shopping. "I don't know where I am going to get a woodcock," he says. "I may have to go out and hunt one myself."
Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives.
Teena Gerhardt, the first blogger to tackle the book, got her Ph.D. in mathematics from MIT and now muses about algebraic topology at Indiana University. Kevin Casey is a graduate student in neuroscience at McGill University. Melissa Palladino, of Rockport, Mass., is working on a cookbook of her own, a Western-gourmet take on Ayurvedic food from India.
The three are cooking at different rates, posting one to seven recipes a week. The project is requiring not only time but also an open wallet. The grocery bills for the entire Gourmet collection is expected to run between $30,000 and $40,000.
Cookbook bloggers typically don't print the complete recipes on their blogs in an effort not to undermine sales of the selected cookbook, which is usually treated with deep affection, even reverence.
A typical attitude is that of Laurie Woodward, the Pittsburgh mom who runs "Tuesdays With Dorie," devoted to "Baking," the latest cookbook by Dorie Greenspan, one of country's most popular baking writers and a master of American and French classics.
"Dorie is like a god to a lot of bakers," says Ms. Woodward. "And she is so nice about checking in on our blog. Sometimes, she even posts something on it, and everyone goes nuts when she does."
Ms. Greenspan said in an interview that she is, indeed, charmed by the blog and considers such sites to be part of the new Web world in which professional food writers like herself are learning to work.
Perhaps the first of this genre was the Julie/Julia Project from 2002, in which Julie Powell, posing as something of a Manhattan underachiever, cooked all of the recipes from Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Those Web musings (it had no pictures) went on to be printed in a best-selling book, and are now being made into a movie starring Meryl Streep.
Few of today's bloggers expect such breakout success, though Ms. Blymire has filmed a pilot for a possible Food Network show and also has had early talks about doing a cookbook.
The fact that the viewership on the blogs is far below what's needed to earn a living is fine with these writers, who say there are ample other rewards for their efforts. Cathy Irish of Maryland, who in November -- after three years, 45 pounds of butter and a pint of vanilla extract -- finished baking everything in "Maida Heatter's Cookies," says she came away from the experience with many new friends, including several with whom she has since visited in real life.
That same sense of community has also struck Mr. Casey, one of those cooking "Gourmet." After he started his project, he learned that his uncle had done something similar with the "Larousse Gastronomique" during the 1970s.
"He was this lone little guy doing this and enjoying it, but he didn't have an avenue to share it," says Mr. Casey. "Now, we can all share it with the whole world."