'Food52' authors share recipes at Darien Library
The Darien Library continued its Meet the Author series as Erin Shea, head of adult programming, welcomed to the podium Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs who presented their new book, "The Food52 Cookbook," Nov. 28.
But Hesser and Stubbs shared more than the podium. An array of fully prepared recipes from their book -- spicy shrimp, smoky fried chickpeas, and "Mom's Blueberry Coconut Muffins," to name a few -- and small servings of wine and San Pellegrino from St. Francis Winery & Vineyard, were laid out for the packed audience to enjoy.
After the presentation, four audience members with a piece of paper labeled "52" under their seat won a free copy of the cookbook.
Hesser and Stubbs also stayed to sign books for a long line of excited audience members, some of whom bought the book that evening for $37.
Hesser and Stubbs are used to sharing things. It was their shared interest in food that led Hesser to invites Stubbs, a fellow food critic and editor, to share her kitchen in Brooklyn, N.Y., where they tested recipes for Hesser's project at the time, "The Essential New York Times Cookbook."
"We ended up testing over 1,400 recipes together," Hesser told the audience. "And we ended up having a great time together."
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Stubbs said their first reason for creating "The Food52 Cookbook" came from an observation while working on The New York Times cookbook.
"Recipes from home cooks are often practical and inventive," Stubbs said. "They are a little bit different from what chefs make."
The second reason for the book, Stubbs said, was their observation of the trends going on around them, such as the rise of food blogs. They tested the idea of creating a crowd-sourcing cookbook by sending emails to friends and family asking for recipes that would compete against one another.
Eventually they co-founded Food52.com, a public forum for food lovers and amateur chefs to share their questions and ideas, and a platform to hold multiple weekly recipe contests that gave them the 140 winning recipes they fed into their book.
Today, the contests are bi-weekly.
"The way we run the contest is, we name the themes and people upload their recipe," Stubbs said, adding that they have a staff of recipe testers, they give the two best recipes a photo shoot and present them on the website for a public vote. The winners go into the cookbook.
There is the occasional cheater on Food52.com, they said. One person was submitting multiple recipes under different usernames. Stubbs noticed in the photos, which the user submitted, that there was a similarity in the way the fork twisted the spaghetti.
"What we want people to know is that we don't just run the site, we participate," Hesser said. "One thing you can call us is a constructive community."
They said that participating in the Food52 community has helped them build new and lasting relationships.
"That's sort of the theme," Stubbs said. "We have a few members who started off as early members of the site who we've developed relationships with."
In her welcome address, Shea admitted to being a part of the Food52 community.
"Not only are they the author's of Food52, but they're the reason I add Parmesan and goat cheese to my recipes," Shea said.