Creating meals with meaning
Q. The magazine heavily relies on readers to supply recipes and feedback. How do you stoke that two-way conversation?
A. Taste of Home is a strange and wonderful beast in that it is by far the most engaged readership I have ever seen before. They want to be a part of it. They want to help us make it. One thing that we did right from day one that was really smart was that we went out and we found 1,000 field editors. And these are the best cooks in their communities. They act as our eyes and ears across the country. There are 15 [voluntary] field editors here in Massachusetts. And their job is really to keep us abreast of how this country is cooking and entertaining and celebrating food in real time.
Q. The publications under the Taste of Home brand, which include Taste of Home, Simple & Delicious, Healthy Cooking, and Country Woman, collectively receive more than 10,000 recipes per week. How do you check those?
A. User-generated content, not just in the food world but anywhere it’s used, is not reliable. It’s overwhelmingly suspect. We have an extraordinarily active test kitchen that vets every one of these recipes. So a recipe comes in and it goes to a food editor who just gives it a once-over to eyeball it, and [the editors] are good enough that they can tell by looking at a recipe whether or not it has potential merit. And if it does, it’ll get pulled and matched up to an editorial calendar for things that we’re planning. And then it goes through testing. Every recipe in the book gets tested at least three times. For Taste of Home, that results in about a 1 percent success-rate for the number of recipes we get versus the ones that make it into the magazine.
Q. What kinds of trends have you noticed lately among the recipes you receive?
A. Americans more than ever are embracing big flavors, spices that would have been exotic three, four, or five years ago, and heat. I think in the past we’ve been accused of being a little quiet and timid with our cooking. That’s not the case anymore. We are indulging flavor in extraordinary ways, and we see that in the recipes that are submitted to us.
Q. Last month, you launched a recipe iPhone app. How are you connecting to a younger audience?
A. Over the past 20 years, the tradition of parents passing down to child the cooking traditions of that family has not been as strong as they have been historically. So there has been a whole generation of young people who have grown up never learning to cook from their family or extended family. Among this younger generation, there is a hunger, literal and metaphorical, for those traditions and that knowledge that didn’t get passed along. So they’re looking for it. They’re looking for it on their terms, of course, not necessarily in a print magazine that comes in the mail, but they’re looking for that lost opportunity. They want to create meaningful family time around meals in their own households.
Q. Since recipes are widely available for free on the Web, why do people still pay for the magazine?
A. That’s something we think about a lot. Recipes by themselves are dodgy things. You don’t know their origins, you don’t know whether they’re going to work, and if there’s one thing that drives a cook absolutely nuts it’s to spend several hours on a new recipe only to find out it doesn’t work. So the reason that 3.2 million subscribers keep coming to us for recipes is that number one, we guarantee that they’re going to work, number two, we guarantee that they’ll use everyday ingredients they can find when they go to their supermarket, and number three, that it has been through our test kitchen process to ensure that it’s going to work for them the first time. For us to have a recipe published that doesn’t work would be a colossal failure. It just doesn’t happen. That’s why people are willing to pay for magazines that contain stuff that can be found for free. The other thing is that we present recipes in context. And that’s what editors do that you can’t get for nothing on the Web or even from most apps. We present recipes that meet real needs and that have context built around them. It’s food in the way people eat it.
Interview was edited and condensed. Glenn Yoder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.