Q&A: Amanda Hesser on How to Adapt and Write Recipes

Amanda Hesser, co-founder of Food52 (Photo by Sarah Shatz)

The subject of writing and adapting recipes generates lots of heated comments on this blog. We debate whether anyone can own a recipe, and whether changing someone else’s recipe makes it yours.

To get another perspective on the creative process of recipe writing, I interviewed Amanda Hesser, co-founder of Food52, the crowd-sourcing recipe website; and author of award winning cookbooks, most recently The Essential New York Times Cookbook.

Food52 accepts recipes for testing, voting and eventual publication, so the site has contest rules for acceptable recipe adapting. Intrigued by the pains Hesser took to show an example of successful recipe changes, I thought Hesser might have opinions on the matter.

Q. This blog has had heated discussions about what constitutes recipe writing and adapting. What is your definition of an adapted recipe?

A. There are two definitions.

At the New York Times, any recipe that comes from another source will always say “adapted from” because it goes through the copy-editing department, and there are little tiny changes that have to do with the stylebook. It means it’s not a word-for-word replica.

The other definition is when it’s someone’s own recipe has been inspired by another’s, for instance, if someone has cooked Alice Water’s Braised Leeks enough times that they’ve personalized it. A lot of people read recipes for inspiration, looking for a flavor combination to play around with. Then they go in the kitchen and do their own thing. But it’s important that they [Read more…]