"What about your bubbe's borscht recipe? Didn't she probably squeeze it onto an index card in roughly 140 characters?"
Can a recipe be only 140 characters long? Sure, you could cram in short-hand terms for liter (l) and olive oil (olvoil), but is it truly a recipe? Many people, including the entire cookbook industry, would argue no. Using Twitter as a platform to share shrunken recipes—which @cookbook has proven can attract over 15,000 followers—strips the recipe of its headnote, its hand-holding instructions, and its soul, some would argue. It's like showing the credits to a movie without the actual movie, argued Fatty Crab chef-owner Zak Pelaccio at last night's "Recipe, Replication, Innovation" lecture at the Institute for Public Knowledge in Manhattan.
The conversation mainly focused on Twitter, which has allowed haiku-like phrases, mashing up garbled code for mint pea soup or pureed turnips, to pose as recipes. Maybe it's less touching than one from Julia Child with an aside on blanching and pairing tips, but it's also free, and less heavy.
New York Times food columnist and frequent tweeter Amanda Hesser (@amandahesser) was the lone Twitter cheerleader on the panel. She noted the compelling voyeurism of watching people's dinner plans unfold online, and the ability to crowd source for real-time kitchen help. But an opposing argument echoed: "I'd rather call up my mom than send these Twitter things."
Twitter bashing went on for a while, led by a few popular points. The recipe loses the experiential component when it's so abbreviated. Where is the joy and journey?! It becomes a code that could be created by robots!
But one guy raised his hand and made a good point. What about your bubbe's borscht recipe? Didn't she probably squeeze it onto an index card in roughly 140 characters? Does that make it soulless?
No, because Bubbe rules, but Twitterified recipes on the other hand lack context, Pelaccio argued. Your grandma, as opposed to random Holly the Homemaker online, probably handed you the recipe after telling you about the Eastern European beet fields and how badly she had once burned her tongue on the soup. The general consensus was that passed-down recipes take on a totally different, usually scrappier, form than cookbook recipes, but are still less evil than the Twitter versions.
But sometimes there's a happy medium between old and new media. Take Sullivan Street Bakery owner Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread recipe, originally printed in the New York Times in 2006. People e-mailed the article like crazy, giving it viral wings all over the world. After Mark Bittman pored over reader's comments and suggestions, he wrote a second piece in 2008, answering the demand for a faster approach and one with whole-wheat. Though originally born into old media, the recipe jumped off the page.
Bacon Explosion is another example of a recipe going viral, but it experienced the reverse order. Beginning on a food blog, it felt a domino effect of clicks, eventually appearing in the New York Times.
"It sounds interesting, I guess," said Pelaccio of what technology like Twitter can do. Admitting to Internet dumbness seems to be a bragging right for chefs, as if to say, these hands are for cutting pork belly, not tapping on keys. "Maybe one day I'll be able to lick my screen," he joked, clearly about to have a nervous breakdown if that ever happened.
Clarkson Potter senior editor Rica Allannic, also a champion of the ink-on-paper recipe, reminisced about her childhood adoration for a jacket-less Gourmet cookbook. It was falling apart so much, the pancake recipe dangled inside on a loose sheet. The whole room nodded, as if they too had lovingly abused the book.
I think everyone can agree that if book shelves were lined with screenshots of 140-character recipes, the world would be sad. But typing "pancakes" into a computer is just so much easier than laminating that crumb of a page hiding somewhere you can't find at the moment.
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