Thursday, October 19, 2006

Q&A: Christopher Kimball, cooking's bow-tied academic

"The gourmet cooking thing is over," says editor and author Christopher Kimball.

I don't know about you, but I have been addicted to Cook's Magazine since the 1980s and all those beautiful watercolor illustrated covers. So it was a great surprise to find this recent interview from the Washington Post with Christopher Kimball, the brains behind the outfit. Until now, I had no idea that he had a cooking show on PBS ("America's Test Kitchen") -- now I am determined to find it.
Where do you typically find your recipes when you're cooking for yourself? When you follow a recipe, are you doing what they say, or are you already editing?

I rarely cook out of a book. I make recipes I've come up with over the years. I did make one out of "Baking With Julia." It was a ginger cake, and it called for two cups of molasses. I'm going, that's a pretty serious amount of molasses. And I only had blackstrap molasses, which is like killer. You never want to cook with blackstrap molasses. So I knew I had to fiddle with the recipe.

Do you choose a recipe to teach a technique or for the flavors?

CK: It's neither. We determine what to publish almost entirely based on a very sophisticated research system. The most successful stories for us are foods that people are familiar with and have a problem making. So, pie dough, for example, is huge because nobody in America can make pie dough anymore. But there are things you can teach people about it which makes it relatively easy.

As there's a growing knowledge about international foods, how do you balance authenticity with convenience?

CK: If you can't find it in a local supermarket, I'm not going to call for it. End of story. Restaurant food and home cooking bear very little resemblance to each other. So you have to figure out which restaurant recipes you really would want to make at home because they're practical. If we did enchiladas, it's going to be nothing like Rick [Bayless] does. It's going to be an Americanized version that is reasonable.

You don't mind that they're not authentic enchiladas?

CK: No. Because if that means you can't make them at home, what's the point? I mean, I'm not Alice Waters. I'm not telling people to grow arugula behind the schoolyard. I'm perfectly happy teaching people how to make a well-done hamburger or mashed potatoes. I think the gourmet cooking thing is over. That happened in the '70s.


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