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Chris Kimball Gets Feisty
Thursday, October 12, 2006 | posted by Mike

Chris KimballYes, that’s right…two Chris Kimball posts in a week.

The host of America’s Test Kitchen and hero to food geeks everywhere sat down with the Washington Post for a Q&A while in town for a book-signing event. Anyone who has seen Kimball on the show knows that he can get a bit opinionated, especially when the time comes to head to the tasting lab. In fact, the episode from this weekend (which I had already seen) included a raspberry preserves tasting which concluded with Kimball saying, more or less, “The Smucker’s won the tasting, but don’t be cheap – try the expensive stuff I liked.” OK...maybe that was a bit of a harsh characterization, but that kind of strong opinion is present often enough to know there is something there.

Anyway, the reporter asked Kimball how much the recipes in the book allow for “creativity and interpretation.” His response:
None. Make the damn recipe my way. [He laughs.] I had someone write in a long time ago and say, "Lidia [Bastianich] cooks with her heart." And I wrote back and said, "Well, yeah, that's the wrong organ. You should use your brain." Until you know that recipe inside out and you really get it and you can make it without looking at the recipe, don't play with it. It's sort of like saying: "I'm going to play a Bach sonata. But I'm going to change the key." No. You play it the way he wrote it.
Interesting, especially when you consider that the dishes are not Kimball’s in that he did not dream them up or even work out the recipes himself. I think it shows that he is a strong believer in the methodology that his show and magazine employ to “perfect” the recipe, which includes testing it repeatedly until they feel that it is both right and repeatable.

Of course, this all gets back to the Rachael Ray vs. Mario Batali schools of thought on food TV. You have the “how to make this dish in your home” shows and the “inspiring you through my fantastic creations” shows. Both groups can turn off a portion of the audience (those who think the lessons being taught are overly pedantic or needlessly complicated, respectively), but I’m a big believer in the necessity of both sorts of shows. Food TV needs to inspire people to get in the kitchen, but it can’t leave them in a lurch when it comes to actually preparing the dishes.

From a practical standpoint, I know that substitutions are sometimes necessary because of the availability of ingredients, but how much liberty do you take with the recipes themselves? I’m talking about the amounts and the techniques, rather than using canned beans instead of dried beans or something like that. And are there any recipes from TV chefs that you feel familiar enough to try without the safety net of the recipe in front of you?

Thoughts are, as always, welcome in the comments below or at tvfoodfan@gmail.com.



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