Over the past six years, Food52 has grown into a top destination for community-vetted recipes, with close to half-a-million members ranging from beginners to professional chefs. Back in 2009, co-founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs started Food52 to host 52 weeks worth of recipe contests. Reader-submitted recipes were voted on by the Food52 community, and, ultimately, the winning dishes were collected into two cookbooks, The Food52 Cookbook: 140 Winning Recipes from Exceptional Home Cooks and The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2: Seasonal Recipes From Our Kitchens to Yours (both William Morrow, 2011 and 2012). The latest book, and the first title from the site's new imprint at Ten Speed Press, Food52 Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook (Apr. 7), is a tweak on that cooperative concept.
The book is written by Food52.com’s executive editor Kristen Miglore, who worked alongside v-p and associate publisher Hannah Rahill, editor on all the titles in the new imprint, Food52 Works, first announced last spring. While it is also a crowdsourced title, each of the featured recipes is of "Genius" stature, meaning they are first created by professional cooks and bakers, then submitted to Food52 by community members.
Miglore said the Genius recipes are just as community-focused as those created by its members. “While it’s not people submitting their own recipes,” she said, “it is people saying they tried this steak technique and you should try it. It’s all about sharing in the community. The members have potlucks offline, they ask questions on the Food52 hotline. The community has grown so big online and they are really into cooking and sharing.”
Genius recipes are so popular that they have had their own column on the Food52 website for over three-and-a-half years, with a total of 176 recipes available, each touted as a recipe that will change the way you think about cooking. For Miglore, the idea behind the Genius recipes is, “there is a better way to cook something than the way you thought you had to do it.” She gives the book’s cover recipe of marinara sauce as an example. “For any tomato sauce you’d think that you’d have to chop up a bunch of ingredients and simmer it all day, so that basically means you couldn’t make it after work. But once someone tells you to make Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion, you don’t need to buy tomato sauce again. It’s so quick and easy that once you start simmering it, by the time you’ve boiled pasta and made a salad, the sauce is ready, and it’s a very pure tomato flavor.”
The book is made up of more than 100 recipes, and more than half of them have never been published on the site before. “The authors featured in the book are flattered to be included,” said Miglore. “But since we wouldn’t have known about these recipes without our community, we added in a list in the back of the book of the Genius Tipsters who let us know about these recipes.”
As someone who has been curating such life-changing recipes for so many years, what recipes stand the test of time for Miglore? She said she returns to all of them one way or another, but three of them are on heavy rotation: Simplest Roast Chicken, English Porridge, and Classic Guacamole. “I don’t have to look the recipes for these up anymore—I just know them,” she said. “There are so many different ways to make guacamole, but I can’t make it another way now. The ingredients look like any other, but instead of chopping them up and mashing them into the avocado, you use the spices as basically a dressing for the avocado. They are not getting in the way of the avocado or the flavor.”
As for the book's target audience, Miglore and Rahill both agree that anyone who picks up the book would find something of interest. “People who read the website will get a lot out of it,” said Miglore. “But also those picking it up could be anyone from a very beginner cook who wants to jump to these versions without trying a bunch of roast chickens on their own. Or it could also be someone who’s been cooking for a while but wants to jumpstart their cooking.”
Rahill said the publisher aims to reach all levels and kinds of cooks with the book. “It’s in concert with Food52’s ethos that ‘memorable cooking doesn’t have to be complicated and precious,’” she said. “The recipes in the books are accessible, inspirational, and beautiful. Just as Food52 connects the food community and celebrates their talents, what our audience shares is a passion for good food.”
Two more books are planned for 2015, with the next book being about vegan cooking, and the second a collection of baking recipes. Ten Speed Press and Food52 will release two to four book per year thereafter.