New York Times food editor Sam Sifton, a part-time Greenport resident, is promoting the newspaper’s new website, NYT Cooking, which is designed to help novice chefs whip up terrific dishes in their own kitchens.
The founding editor of the website and a related iPad app that launched in September, Sifton writes about food for The Sunday Times Magazine. He is a former national editor, restaurant critic and culture editor at The New York Times and the author of the 2012 book “Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well.”
We spoke to Sifton last week to discuss The Times’ new venture. The following was excerpted from the conversation.
Q: How did the idea for NYT Cooking come about?
A: We started in September 2013 with an idea. And the idea was that we could, through a lot of hard technical work and design, revitalize our recipe archive going back to the early 1980s. That’s more than 16,000 recipes — some great recipes from great cooks and journalists, like Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey … A lot of readers will remember a New York Times cookbook, which Craig Claiborne published in the 1970s and which was a national best-seller at a time when The New York Times was not a nationally distributed newspaper; it was a metropolitan newspaper.
The memory of that success is the model we’re inspired by today. The Times is an international newspaper with an international readership but one we would like to increase, and I hope we can do it with cooking.
Q: What are some of the features of both the website and iPad app?
A: Right now, your recipe box is made up of the recipes you save from the 16,000 recipes that we have. I can imagine a world in the not-so-far distant future where if you enjoyed a recipe in The Suffolk Times, or if you enjoyed a recipe in a magazine, you could clip it and save it into your New York Times recipe box without very much difficulty.
If you wanted to upload a family recipe into your recipe box, you could do it. It would be really exciting if third-party content could be collected there as well. I also think in coming months you’ll see us introduce a lot more video … By Thanksgiving, basically every question you have about cooking we’ll be able to answer on our site. There’s a newsletter as well that gives you ideas on what to cook. It goes out three times a week.
Q: What’s your favorite recipe on the website?
A: For me, the great thing is that there is something for everyone at every moment. I think the smothered chicken from Craig Claiborne is just fantastic. It’s one of my favorites, but I’ve got plenty more.
Q: Any North Fork contributors?
A: We have Captain Berson’s Greenport Shuffle. We also have recipes from Eberhard Müller of Satur Farms.
Q: What has the reaction been?
A: Pretty positive. It’s interesting, you know — the younger the respondent is, the more desirous they are. They like the iPad app. They would like us to have a corresponding iPhone app. The website has a responsive design, so it works beautifully on all devices. The older the respondent, the more likely they are to have something to say about the button to print recipes.
Q: What kind of chef is the website geared toward?
A: [It’s] designed for the home cook. There are plenty of restaurant chefs who have recipes there, but all of our recipes — even the ones we take from restaurants — we work on in our test kitchens to make them accessible to everyone. As we head into the fall season, the apple harvest and Thanksgiving, and as agritainment reigns along North Road, I think we can hope this will help people cook what they get [from farm stands].
Q: How does the website differ from other cooking sites?
A: I think the challenge publications have right now, on one hand, has to do with content: making sure you’ve got delicious food for people to make. And that’s something Martha Stewart does and the Times does and other places do. On the other end of the equation, there’s a technology issue: How do you save these things, organize them, move them around? There are a few websites, companies and apps where you can gather your recipes and keep them.
My belief, and I hope the market will agree with me, is that The Times has put itself right in between the two. We have amazing content, but we also have technology that’s going to allow our users to use that content in a really, really good way. You won’t hear me saying anything bad about Martha Stewart. I respect her a huge amount and I think her website is terrific and her recipes are just grand. But what I would like to believe is that if you come to The Times, you’re going to be inspired by some really good cooking and you’re going to find other recipes that you like. Then we’re going to give you the technology that’s required to organize them, keep them and move from clipping recipes and putting them in a three-ring binder to having them with you at all times on your phone or desktop.