If you've ever followed a Cook's Illustrated recipe the way it is intended to be followed -- that is, precisely -- and, as pleased as punch as you may have been with the outcome, nonetheless still thought, Gee, they take the fun out of cooking -- well, that's sort of the point. "I hate the idea that cooking should be a celebration or a party," Christopher Kimball said in last weekend's New York Times Magazine.
The profile of the Cook's Illustrated founder and host of America's Test Kitchen was part of a larger issue on food and drink (other articles: Mark Bittman hits the Central Valley, food on the campaign trail). Now that things like debates and Dodger games and summer BBQs are over and done, maybe you'll have the time to peruse the issue. Starting, perhaps, with the Kimball piece.
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As it turns out, Kimball's biography is much more fascinating than his signature bowties might suggest. For example: Once, he got high with Pygmies in Congo. How that figures into his later rejection of glossy food media and an adamant belief that "cooking is about putting food on the table night after night, and there isn't anything glamorous about it" is for you (and his therapist) to decide.
We also see the actual test kitchen at work as we follow a "Calvinist assault on the egg" -- i.e., the development of a recipe for the Perfect Soft-Boiled Egg. One frustrating failure follows after another, the lessons from which will certainly make its way into the introduction of the recipe when it's published in the January/February issue of Cook's Illustrated. As Kimball says, "Disaster in the kitchen puts the reader at ease, and that's why we start our recipes with it." And therein lies the appeal: As a life coach for the kitchen, you can do worse. After all, it's always nice when someone else can make the mistakes and absorb the possibility of public humiliation so you, young fearful cook, don't have to.