A Letter from Tanya Steel to Amazon Cooks
Who would have thought that the millions worldwide that view Epicurious as their sous chef, who return daily to their digital recipe boxes seeking their favorites, would crave a printed product?
Epicurious was founded on the principle that good food should be enjoyed by, and accessible to, everyone; that our global village of home cooks can provide invaluable expertise; that the world's great culinary minds should be showcased in recipe, video, article. But being a purely digital product—albeit one available via computer, smartphone, tablet, printer, and refrigerator—left some of our passionate community desiring one thing more—a printed cookbook. Some wanted it so they could read the book in bed, salivating over the food photography and delicious recipe titles. Others asked from a more practical point of view, saying they still liked to cook from an actual book, pages collecting flour and absorbing grease as the tangible proof of a delicious memory. And then a vocal minority just wanted to know what recipes we editors liked most, asking us to act as curators.
So, we took up the charge, selecting from amongst the top-rated recipes voted by users. The process was, well, lengthy. Try going through a database that numbers 200,000, choosing from amongst the best of the best, created by the likes of Gourmet and Bon Appétit magazines, top cookbook authors like Edna Lewis, Dorie Greenspan, and Bruce Aidell, renowned chefs like David Chang, Tom Colicchio, and Jonathon Waxman. It was hard! Arguments ensued. Knives were drawn at dawn—umm . . . kitchen knives . . .
We decided to structure the book the way we all eat and cook—by season—then by meal course or type. Because we love and value our community, we also chose to feature some of our most talented home cook recipes, and gave them the royal treatment—testing, cross-testing, and then editing and photographing their family recipes. We strove to find the perfect member comment to add editorial insight into each recipe and wrote headnotes that supplied menu ideas, cooking tips, and substitutions. We created menus so that any reader could just flip to the back and get a preplanned meal. And, finally, we convinced legendary food photographer Ellen Silverman, who had just come off shooting Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook, to render shots of the dishes just as they would look in any of our kitchens—rustic, fresh, tasty.
And so here we are, about to give birth to Epicurious' first-ever cookbook. We couldn't have done it without the support and encouragement of our vocal global cooking club, and we couldn't be more proud of the results.
We hope it will become one of your all-time favorite classics.
Epicurious, Gourmet Live, Gourmet.com, and coauthor of Real Food for Healthy Kids
Molly O'Neill Interviews Tanya Steel, Author of The Epicurious Cookbook
Molly O'Neill is the author of One Big Table as well as New York Cookbook, A Well-Seasoned Appetite, The Pleasure of Your Company, and Mostly True. A former reporter for the New York Times and the food columnist for its Sunday magazine, she hosted the PBS series Great Food. She has won the Julia Child/IACP Award, three James Beard citations for books, journalism, and television, as well as the foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award. She has twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Tanya Steel is that rare breed of food-loving editors who came of age in print journalism and moved seamlessly into the online world. Packing a decade’s worth of old-media discipline and tradition, she turned Epicurious.com into the premier site for people who cook. Ms. Steel is all of what her name implies. She is also a serious superstar.
Launched by Condé Nast in 1995, Epicurious was initially imagined as a digital repository for Gourmet and Bon Appétit, the company's two food magazines. In 2005, when Steel took the helm, she began commissioning more and more original work, minding dining and cooking trends and serving up feasts of words and recipes for all the demographic groups that comprise a Big Time readership.
Since then, Epicurious has collected almost 200,000 recipes, and every month 9 million unique users log on to answer the question of the day: What the heck am I going to cook for dinner (or for Thanksgiving, or for my shiny new boyfriend, or my in-laws, or the eight people I impulsively invited to dinner on Saturday night)? The Epicurious Cookbook is a finely curated volume—250 recipes drawn from the sea of online possibilities—all of which have been test-driven with the savvy and determination generally associated with Detroit's crash-car experts.
Out of my 15,000 cookbooks, it feels like one of the handful that I will actually keep in the kitchen, a book that captures this moment in American appetite. I called Tanya Steel to ask how she did it—and why.
Continue reading the complete interview [PDF]