A Conversation with… Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs

One week after publication of The Food52 Cookbook, co-authors Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs join us on the blog to reminisce about the early days of food52.com, their online community of talented home cooks. Read their conversation, and explore more about food52.com and their cookbook by browsing the book, watching the video, and meeting them on tour. Wish you’d been around when food52.com was just launching itself? Get the cookbook, and you’ll be completely up-to-date with the best the site has to offer.

Amanda: Do you remember our first contest? It was done by email.

Merrill: Yes, very well. We named a theme–in fact, we had three themes at the same time. There was the holiday cookie, winter salad and ragu or Bolognese. We sent a mass e-mail to our friends, family, and everyone we had ever met on the street, and asked if they would be willing to participate in this crazy experiment. We sent a follow-up to anyone who expressed interest and asked them to send us their recipes within two weeks.

Amanda: Merrill’s mom had her three perfect recipes right away. For the rest, we had to show up at our friends’ houses and say, you must give us your ragu recipe now!

Merrill: We read all of the recipes, and chose a few of the most promising to test. In fact, the first thing I made for my now-husband, Jonathan, was ragu. I had two ragus on the stove when he came over for dinner the first time and he said, this is the woman for me! He always tells that story. We then sent an email asking everyone involved to select their favorite of the two finalists, tallied up the responses, and announced the winner.

Amanda: Merrill’s mom proceeded to win or become a finalist in every contest until we finally had to ban her!

Merrill: She was so supportive. People started asking, what will you do when you have thousands of users on the site? How will you read through all of the recipes? And we said, p’shaw!

Amanda: These days, how many people does it take to run each contest?

Merrill: It takes a dozen people. This includes reading, shopping, tasting, testing, photography, and making sure prizes get to the right people. Entries average about 150 per week, with some going as high as 300.

Amanda: We still read through every recipe and test about ten percent of the most promising at Food52. We have a spreadsheet with our feedback and we compare notes. We distribute another ten percent of the recipes for the community to test. We want to spread the love and recognize as many great recipes as we can.

Merrill: From the tested results, we pick two finalists, cook their recipes, photograph the step-by-step process of making each, and then post them to the site. Our readers vote on the winner.

Amanda: It’s a curated, but also democratic, process. It involves not only the cooks, but also the Food52 editors.

Merrill: As we grow, our goal is to find more and more ways to recognize all of the great recipes on the site.

Amanda: It’s an embarrassment of riches!

Amanda Hesser has been named one of fifty women game-changers in food by Gourmet. A longtime writer and editor for the New York Times, Hesser has written the award-winning books Cooking for Mr. Latte and The Cook and the Gardener, and edited the essay collection, Eat, Memory. Her latest book, a New York Times bestseller and the winner of a James Beard Award, is The Essential New York Times Cookbook. Amanda lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Tad Friend, and their two children. Follow her on Twittter @amandahesser.

Merrill Stubbs is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in London. She has written for various publications, including the New York Times’ “T Living,” Edible Brooklyn, Body+Soul, and Culinate.com, and she was the food editor for the Herb Quarterly magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband. Follow her on Twitter @merrillstubbs.

Food52.com features more than 12,000 recipes and receives half a million visitors per month. Follow the community on Twitter @food52, and be their fan on Facebook.


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