It is an established fact that summer is a season that doesn’t lend itself to serious cooking. Far before the heatwave hit London, I’ve been using summer as an excuse to eat out a lot – burgers and pizza and beer to be more precise. And when I do retreat for some time at home, I’ve put what I call the picnic diet into action — hummus and bread and the occasional tomato. Maybe a rotisserie chicken will make an appearance if I’m putting on the ritz*. It has worked out well for me. Junky pub food is the perfect complement to drinks on evenings out, and the picnic diet has shaved my time spent in the kitchen down to an all year low, thus maximising my precious time in the sun.
But all good things must come to an end.
I’m all burgered out. I haven’t even made it to Shake Shack and Five Guys and I’m already over this burger fad (for the time being). My wallet is also over it. And I’ve eaten so much hummus that I can’t look at the stuff anymore.
As a result, I’ve been trying to cook a bit more often these days, and I’ve been making use of one particular blog that I feel a strong desire to share with every beginner cook out there: Food52. My friend introduced me to it some time ago, and basically every recipe I have used off the site has been freaking awesome. The secret? Look no further than THE POWER OF THE CROWD.
Food52 is crowdsourced it in that it relies on users to generate the recipes. In fact, the founders set the site up in an effort to create the world’s first ever crowdsourced cookbook . But the website itself proved to be so successful that it has become a destination in its own right. What makes the community aspect of Food52 so unique is that one gets the sense that contributing members, whether they are sharing recipes, tips or feedback, are knowledgeable and passionate about the food they write about. And the community is a strong one: according to a 2012 GigaOm article, Food52 at the time had a core membership of 50,000 “highly active professional and home cooks” who are said to make up a tenth of the site’s 500,000 monthly unique visitors. Note that in the UK, the site garnered 32,000 unique visitors in June 2013, according to the Internet analytics company comScore.) What is also surprisingly for a crowdsourced website, is how the recipes that appear on the site seem to have some harmony to them. The emphasis seems to be on unpretentious, simple and tasty food. I haven’t come across too many annoying food fads while using the site so far.
There are a few website features that I have found particularly handy:
User Reviews and Community Picks
It is true that in our age of celebrity chefs, there is a plethora of competent not to mention attractive chefs out there to sharing their culinary wisdom and curated collections with the world, through cookbooks and websites. But let’s face it, there is nothing more powerful than a thread of fifty user comments along the lines of “these pancakes are mental they are so good!!!”. Again, this is not a feature that is unique to Food52, but it seems as though the audience this site has managed to attract is quite reasonable and reliable in its taste. If I’m looking for inspiration, I click on the ‘Community Picks’ button, and I let the magic happen.
This is definitely the coolest part of the website, and the reason I got hooked in the first place. Every other Monday, Food52 solicits recipes for different themes and users then submit recipes. A bunch of candidate recipes are selected by the editors, which are then tested by the community. The recipes chosen by those tester members become Community Picks. Following this, the editors select a couple of finalists that are grouped with the the winning Community Picks to create the ultimate community food show-down of the digital age, which is decided by user votes.
Again, people using the site submit great recipes, and the top picks I’ve tested are outstanding. I also really enjoy the themes the editors pick for the contests. Past contest themes have included things like Your Best Frozen Dessert or Your Best Cheap Feast (side note: the winner was Greek Lamb with Orzo which I’ve made and recommend), and the editors have come up with some pretty interesting contests like Your Best Beer Recipe or Your Best Recipe With Cereal.
This is a feature of the website that I haven’t made any major use of myself yet, but that shows a lot of promise. Food52’s hotline allows users to ask any food-related questions over the website and via Twitter (Apple users can also submit questions through the Food52 iPhone app), and then anyone, even non-members can respond. I can see this being a really great tool for people who are culinarily challenged, or new to the kitchen. Equally, given the massive base of enthusiastic amateur and professional cooks, I bet that users looking to perfect their skills will really benefit from this.
So, there you have it. The secret to my increasingly enviable cooking repertoire is out.
*Cheapskate footnote: I have purchased entire rotisserie chickens for as low as £2.50. My secret – eating at the anti-social hour of 9.30pm.