Ask any home cook what the best cookbook of all time is, and you'll probably get an excited—and exasperated—response. Where does one even begin? It's an entirely unscientific, exceedingly subjective question with a thousand and one right answers. It's like being asked to pick your favorite child or pet. (Heck, making this decision was almost impossible even when we were just trying to name the best cookbook of the year.)
Naturally, we decided to ask this question anyway, to the best and brightest home cooks we know (that's you!). We're officially on the hunt for the greatest tomes of our time, and we need your help. So, tell us: What cookbook—new or old, long or short, famed or unjustly overlooked—has changed the way you cook? Whose corners are dog-eared, with pages splattered, stained, and utterly well-loved? Which one do you turn to when you're in need of a kick of inspiration and a back-to-basics lesson on a classic dish? And which cookbook's there for you most, when you need a friendly, steady voice to coach you through a head-spinning technique?
We realize this is a big question, so we're giving you some guardrails, in the form of categories. Eventually, we'll stack up those favorites against others of the same category, to compete in the ultimate cookbook showdown: A series of rigorous reviews—considered, tested, and written by none other than you.
We think these cookbook deep-dives will make the competition more objective: apples to apples, miches to miches, if you will. And because the reviews will be written by you and your fellow Food52ers—by home cooks, for home cooks—we know they'll be a heck of a lot more informative, not to mention a lot more relatable and fun. We're calling this series The Big Community Book-Off, and we can't wait to get things cooking.
But before we go headfirst into all the fun, let's break down the process and set some ground rules, shall we? The gist is this:
- We'll gather nominations in this form, where we're asking you to share your single-favorite book in each category. The book can be new or old, classic or modern, from an author we've written about on Food52 or one that might've never crossed our paths before. The only rule here is that the book must still be in print, and currently available at some kind of widely accessible retailer. The nomination form will close at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, March 8, 2020. (The nomination form also has information about categories you'd like to see in future months, and you can additionally register early interest in signing up to review—but we'll give you a chance to sign up later, too...more on this in point #3).
- We'll collect your nominations and identify the five most-popular books in the field.
- Each month, we'll share the top five books in a specific category, then solicit reviewers for each set of books. We'll need at least three reviewers to test through each set of books, so come three, come all!
Once we've gathered community interest in reviewing each book, we'll select our three (or more!) reviewers and connect them with one another over email (or snail mail, or carrier pigeon—whichever you prefer). We'll then send each reviewer a set of five books to work through, and give them four weeks to read the books and cook a few recipes from each. In the two weeks after that, they'll put their heads together with their
co-conspiratorsfellow reviewers, to craft a joint, extended review on their experience. (They'll then send this review to Food52 for editing and publication.)
Not to be a wet blanket, but if you're interested in joining, there are a few simple guidelines we'll ask you to follow (they're easy and almost all fun, we promise!). These rules will make the competition fairest and hopefully clear up some questions that might be popping up right now.
- You must cook three dishes from each book. You'll be the one to decide which those are, and you can recruit friends, family members, or co-workers to pitch in on the prepping and cooking. But at the end of the day we're hoping to hear what you think—we want to know what it was like for you to cook from these books.
- You must connect with your fellow community reviewers to weigh in on the books. Not everyone needs to do the writing, but everyone can, if they'd like—you can decide who does what amongst yourselves. We'll just ask that everyone's thoughts are eventually compiled in one document when you send it to us.
- You must turn in a review of the book for editing and publication on Food52. (We'll give you the right email address when we reach out to confirm your participation.) What should the review include, you ask? We’ve got some ideas and thought starters here: First off, tell us where you're coming from and what kind of cook you are. Do you cook from this kind of book all the time, or is it newer to you? Then, explain the premise of each book and outline its contents: for example, the structure, storytelling, photography and other graphics, and finally, the recipes themselves. Do any of the books feel lacking in any of these areas? Are you drawn to one title right off the bat? Explain all this here. Next, carefully read each introduction to find out what the books are promising—and keep these promises in mind when you select and cook three recipes from each (see rule #1). This brings us to detailing each book's recipes: How'd it all go? What worked? What didn't work? Were the instructions sufficiently helpful or did you feel left in the lurch? Finally, you'll declare one book to rule them all. (This is a toughie, but you can do it!)
- You must have fun. This is not so much a rule as a hope and a wish. But really, this is your time to let loose! Bring in friends and family to help you cook and judge, host a cookbook dinner party, take photos and videos of your journey along the way. Check in with your fellow reviewers to get their take throughout the process, then share those conversations with us in your review. Sky's the limit!
So, now that we've given you the lay of the land—what are you waiting for?! Run to your bookshelves with reckless abandon, leaf through your collection fast and furiously, and get nominating. Remember—submissions close at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Mar. 8, 2020. Happy cookbooking!