July 13, 2009

Twittered Recipes The New Culinary Craze

Hyper-condensed recipes are the newest craze flying through the Twitter-sphere, bringing stripped-down recipes from seasoned professional cooks to the masses.  Critics say it's an impractical and inconvenient fad that won't stand the test of time, but for thousands of Twitter veterans just might be the best thing since sliced bread.

For the uninitiated, Twittered recipes might appear reminiscent of some dreaded high school chemistry class.  Conforming to the general rules for all tweets, the directions must stay within the 140-character limit, leaving users to condense page-long recipes into cryptic combinations of letters and numbers that would have had Cold War code-breakers scratching their heads.

Consider the following: "Heat 3Tdashi, 1/2C miso, 4C H2O," or "Simmr 6 sm leeks w/2T but &1t salt & 1Cwater 10 min."

If you need more than a few seconds to crack the code, don't worry"”you're not alone.  For many Twitterers though, decoding the recipes is half the fun.

"Definitely it's a code, it's a hieroglyphic that people have to get over time. But so is LOL [...] or the emotions like smiley faces that people have been using for years." says Karen Solomon, a San Francisco-based chef and recipe tweeter.

Solomon is just one of a number of well-known or up-and-coming chefs who have taken on the challenge of packing directions for interesting gourmet fare into a space that an average sentence or two might take up.

The trick, of course, is to be as succinct as possible.  Already, a host of standard abbreviations has begun evolving amongst digital epicureans.  "T" is a tablespoon, "t" a teaspoon and "C" is a cup.  Other words and ingredients are often shortened by simply removing vowels.

The award-winning Chicago chef Rick Bayless recently posted a tweet for salsa that read, "Simple Guajillo Salsa:toast 2 clnd guajillos n med-ht oil 4 20-30 sec.Blend w 4 rstd tomatillos,3 rstd garlic,1/2c H20. Salt."  Yum.  

"It is something about bringing recipes down to their bare bones. I hate to use the word intellectual, but it's an intellectual challenge," explained Lucy Waverman, author of four cookbooks and Twecipe pioneer.

For many recipients of the twittered recipes, the simplicity, brevity and easy accessibility of the directions is exactly what they find so appealing.

"Going through a cookbook takes extra time, whereas it's already on Twitter," said Catherine Kustanczy, a Toronto-area resident who gets Waverman's recipes says. "It's already there, so you don't have to go and look something up and look for inspiration."

Yet even fans of the terse little recipes say that the system has its limitations.  Recipes with complex instructions or long lists of ingredients are often just untweetable.  According to Waverman, nuanced instructions like "pour the cognac in and boil for a minute or two, shaking the skillet," stretch even the most concise Twitterers beyond their limits.

Both Waverman and Solomon say they just opt to steer clear of complicated recipes like ravioli or almost anything that requires baking.

A number of cooking commentators, however, are convinced that twittered-recipes are an ephemeral novelty rather than a culinary revolution.

"The fact that you can do it on Twitter doesn't mean that you should do it on Twitter," said Christopher Kimball, publisher of Cook's Illustrated magazine.

Kimball says he frequently tweets simple cooking tips and may on occasion even send out a recipe for extremely simple dishes.  He refrains, however, from even attempting to condense more complex recipes, saying that the potential for a gastronomical disaster makes it too risky. 

"There's all this information that you leave out, like what is it supposed to look like, what if this doesn't happen, what if you don't have Dutch-processed cocoa?"

Some, like Kim McGalliard, a Web consultant from Brooklyn, N.Y. and lifelong amateur cook, are even more critical than Kimball. According to her, Twecipes are just too troublesome and end up making more work for the cook.

Dilys Tosteson Garcia of Los Angeles, however, thinks that that bit of extra effort is just part of the charm.  She says she can understand both opinions on the matter and pins the differences on a person's general philosophy of cooking.

"It depends on whether you're an artist cook or a scientist cook."


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