Monday, December 13, 2010

Christopher Kimball on Cook's Illustrated

Yesterday's Sunday Boston Globe had an interview with Christopher Kimball of Cook's Illustrated by Amanda Katz. I was fascinated to learn that his inspiration for Cook's Illustrated were "a series of monographs from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, badly printed black and white, about pruning trees and that sort of thing."

They were so clearly not about entertainment — they were about information. The tone was very matter-of-fact and clear, as opposed to gardening books with color pictures. Their expertise was almost enhanced by the fact that they were so cheap. That’s where I got the idea for Cook’s.

Any time you come across someone who has spent a long time doing something, their prose tends to be succinct and clear, and they don’t use a lot of adjectives. They’re not trying to sell you on something. I think that’s what attracted me to those little monographs.

After reading the article, I rushed to my book shelves and located my copy of Handbook of Herbs which I hadn't looked at in years. I remember buying it at the Flower Show in Boston in the 1970s. He's right. The printing is pretty bad. Some of the photos don't do much to help in the identification process while others are quite crisp and elegant. But I still love the book. There is something so direct and trustworthy about it.

As someone who spends a lot of time giving and writing instructions, I've always been a critical reader of instructional books. I find that many do not give instructions in the depth that they should be. A lot of craft books seem to be controlled by the designer rather than the author. I assume they think that too many steps and too many words clutter up the design. What I have learned from teaching groups of fifty kids is that the process needs to be broken down into the smallest possible steps and each direction has to have only one possible result. If you say fold the paper in half, there are two ways that can be done. So the words need to specify which way, or the picture needs to illustrate it.
While I do a lot of more spontaneous cooking, I really appreciate the incredible thoroughness of Cook's Illustrated. I think its success is the complete unity of vision, with the design growing out of the belief in clarity, completeness, and simplicity through detail.

Boston Sunday Globe interview with Christopher Kimball

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...