Bringing It All Back Home
Back in 1979 I was working on the launch of Cook's magazine when I was introduced to James Beard. I asked him to define American cooking. He said, "That's simple. It's what your neighbor down the street is making for dinner." To Jim, American cooking was his mother's cream of tomato soup, potato pancakes made by second-generation German immigrants, and osso bucco from the Italian-American family next door. In the 1980's, however American home cooking took its lead from restaurant fare, from classic French haute cuisine and nouvelle cuisine, from California and Cajun and anything with Asian ingredients. American food became global, and amid the changes we lost a cohesiveness of food and place and culture. We lost traditions that had connected us, and in which food played an important role: the social vitality of a meal, for example as an occasion for families to talk, argue, persuade, or even shout.
Two years after the original Cook's magazine ceased publication, I have decided to relaunch the magazine as Cook's Illustrated, a new format that is dedicated to the pleasures of home cooking, with firsthand accounts of how to cook from the best cooks and chefs in America. Cook's Illustrated is a cookbook, a reference library, a resource, a cooking school, a consumer's guide, and a source of original, well-illustrated cooking instruction. We do it for you, the reader, without advertising so that we may bring you honest, no-nonsense editorial that you can depend on.
Why relaunch Cook's now? Because we need to cook. Less than half of all Americans have their main meal together with the rest of the family. Forty-two percent find it difficult to make time to prepare meals (up from 30 percent in the 1970's). Yet 30 percent of Americans now say they are making more meals from scratch. All of us at Cook's Illustrated sense that, at long last and once again, Americans are hungry for home cooking. And given the quality of our fast-paced and veneer-deep life-styles, we should be. If it's true that life is in the little things, then how we fry an egg matters.
The food in our pages must meet the criteria of modern times—sensible, fresh, reasonable in preparation time, yet satisfying and mostly from scratch. Cook's Illustrated is about what our neighbors are making (or should be making) for dinner. Although never stated explicitly, Cook's is also about the choice between convenience and quality. The choice is up to you.
American cooking wasn't an abstract concept to Jim Beard. It was plain folks cooking for their families. The spirit of good food lies in neighbors and in family, in local farmers and in holiday get-togethers. It can be Gray Kunz's Black Sea Bass in Broth or a simple roast chicken. But it has to be homemade, that is, made for a group of people who share a sense of community.
America's home has always been in the kitchen. It's time to roll up our sleeves and get busy.