To help newspapers avoid disasters, J.M. Hirsch pushed the Associated Press to adopt recipe testing when he became food editor at the wire service about seven years ago. “At the time, we weren’t really testing anything,” he says.
Hirsch has changed that. He has hired two trained chefs to work with him in his home kitchen, which has been expanded and modernized, to test and photograph every single recipe that goes out over the wire. Hirsch considers it a service both to readers and to the 1,700-plus newspapers that subscribe to the AP in the United States. “If the recipe is wrong, they hear about it, because their local readers call them and complain,” Hirsch says.
Though he can’t say exactly how many more subscribers are turning more to the AP for recipes as the industry suffers, Hirsch suspects the numbers are increasing. “Their budgets are shrinking, and they’re relying on us more to fill those gaps,” says Hirsch, who tries to publish five to seven recipes weekly.
If the newspaper industry understands the importance of recipe testing in the Internet age, it is not alone. Some who call the Web home are introducing the same testing rigors to the online world. “I don’t trust much of what I find on the Internet,” says Kenji Lopez-Alt, a former editor at Cook’s Illustrated who is now managing editor for SeriousEats.com.
At Serious Eats, Lopez-Alt has tried to encourage the same exacting spirit, if not the same protocols, found at Cook’s Illustrated, where every recipe is tested on average about 30 times, he says. Lopez-Alt might test variations of a recipe for his Food Lab column 30 times, but elsewhere on the site, he’s content to see one test of a published recipe.
“Our recipe program is more focused on good testing and limiting the recipes that we run to those that we have tested ourselves,” he says. The way Lopez-Alt talks, he sounds like an online equivalent of a Michael Bauer or other like-minded editors who are committed to makingrecipes approachable for home cooks. It would seem the newspaper industry might have yet another thing to worry about.