In contrast to Bauer, Russ Parsons, veteran food editor at the Los Angeles Times, joined a paper with a long tradition of recipe testing, dating to the early 20th century. These days, the Times has a sprawling test kitchen overseen by manager Noelle Carter, a professionally trained chef. The kitchen is used not only for recipe testing (most recipes are tested about three times) but also for online videos and cooking segments for a sister television station.
“In the grand scale of things, it’s expensive, but you only lose a reader once,” says Parsons, who declined to provide his budget numbers. “My argument is, we still fact-check addresses and phone numbers, and that’s expensive, too,” in terms of staff hours.
If the two California papers are the gold standard for recipe testing, despite deep layoffs at both operations, there are plenty of other publications that reflect the harsher reality of journalism. Jill Wendholt Silva is the food editor and restaurant critic for the Kansas City Star. Things have gotten better since Bauer left: The paper now has a humble test kitchen. But the Star has only one food staffer: Jill Wendholt Silva.
“You take on as much as you can,” Wendholt Silva says. “You weigh how much this recipe needs to be tested versus other things you have to do.”
Wendholt Silva, like some others in her position, has had to develop a sort of loose calculation for when to test and when not to test. The Star editor, for example, rarely bothers to test the Come Into My Kitchen column, which features reader-submitted recipes. “We don’t test every single one of those,” she says, because “they’ve made it over and over and over again.”
Both Wendholt Silva and Lee Svitak Dean, food editor of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, have learned to scour the wires for recipes that are worthy of publishing without testing, such as those printed in magazines or newspapers that already test dishes.
“It would be rare to test the wire recipes that we use as filler, as we don’t have the staff to do that,” says Dean, one of two employees in the Taste section, which publishes three to six recipes a week. “With wire pieces, I’m very careful about who is the author. I make it a point of choosing people . . . or using individuals that I trust.”
Despite layoffs and budget cuts, the drive to publish tested recipes remains strong in the newspaper industry. “It’s one of the most vital things that we can provide,” says Joe Gray, food editor of the Chicago Tribune, who says the paper tests recipes in staff-generated stories but not always those in wire-service articles. “We can break things down and explain them. I find that a lot of Web sites don’t deliver that.”