We Ask Amanda Hesser: How Can Technology Make Us Better Home Cooks?

For Amanda Hesser, Food52 is built to serve you in every aspect of kitchen and home life.

Walmart entering your home to stock your fridge with groceries, Amazon dropping Whole Foods hauls at your doorstep via drone, plant-based meat that “bleeds”—if this is increasingly how we’re eating in 2017, what can we expect in 2020? 2050? And given a growing world population and climate change concerns, which of these innovations do we actually need?

These are the big questions we’re exploring on November 3-4 at Food Loves Tech (FLT): our all you can eat and drink Industry City expo where you can test drive food technologies from field and sea to next gen frontiers. We’ll also have expert panels answering some of the most important questions facing our food supply including one entitled “how can technology make us better home cooks?”

Few food publications are better equipped to help us answer this question than Food52. Their editor in chief Suzanne D’Amato will join us at Industry City on Friday, November 3 for said panel alongside Saveur editor in chief Adam Sachs, feedfeed co-founders Julie and Dan Resnick, and Pith Supper Club founder and chef Jonah Reider.

Leading up to the event, we caught up with celebrated food editor, author, entrepreneur and Food52 co-founder Amanda Hesser to chat about how technology provides fertile ground for home cooks to exchange information and build community:

Edible Brooklyn: Can you tell me a little bit about Food52?
Amanda Hesser: Food52 is built to serve you in every aspect of kitchen and home life, whether that’s to help you find a recipe for dinner, to answer a question, to help you discover new products for your kitchen and home, or to connect with like-minded cooks. We live in lots of different places and on different platforms, and we see that as a really fun opportunity to help people, and to express our brand in a more nuanced way. On a platform like Instagram, that means beautiful photography, snappy fun videos, quick informative tips and product features. We also have a baking club, a podcast and a cookbook series. And we do tons of events from cocktail parties to pop-up stores. We treat every platform in its own way, and we like to think of them as connected communities.

EB: Food52 has been described as an “online food community.” Can you talk about how you see the role of technology in building a sense of community among home cooks?
AH: Cooking and eating is inherently social, and technology makes that easier. On our site, there is a place for saving and organizing collections of recipes, articles or products. You can share that content or follow people who you admire on the site, and we really focus on keeping those connections dynamic and moving forward. Okay, we connected two people who care about baking. How do we keep that conversation going? How do we give them things that are inspiring and exciting? Whether that is by letting them know about new techniques, or a cookbook we think is really great, or even just letting them talk with each other about what they have been trying out in the kitchen.

EB: I really like the way you talk about people sharing with one another rather than absorbing information about cooking in a top-down way. Can you tell me more about that approach to a recipe platform?
AH: The real genesis of the idea to do this in a community-based way came from our own professional backgrounds in traditional media. While there were really valuable things that we felt were worth preserving—like a strong aesthetic and a strong editorial voice—the drawback is that it can easily default to broadcasting at people and not allowing it to be a conversation.

So my co-founder Merrill Stubbs and I were working on The Essential New York Times Cookbook, which was a retrospective of the best recipes in the New York Times going back to the 1850s. One of the most interesting things was that in the nineteenth century, almost all of the food content in the New York Times came from readers. You could see over time that there were readers who were, what you would call on the internet, power users. They were handwriting letters to the New York Times all the time with their recipes and ideas about why their chicken soup was better than everyone else’s. There was this great depth to it, and also really great content. And that made us think—why can’t you build a media company that is creating its own content with a strong identity and trustworthiness, while also celebrating the participation of the community itself?

EB: How do you see Food52 as impacting the choices that people are making in their home kitchens?
AH: Our mission is to get people to eat better and live better. Even small improvements can really transform how people feed themselves, whether it is learning to shop for better food, or just learning how to roast vegetables. We are big believers in home life. Getting people in the kitchen is extremely additive to people’s happiness, to the economy of their homes, and to their connection to the local economy, food and otherwise. We have great ambitions, but we also feel like any effort is worth it. The beauty of the internet is that you can reach a lot of people very rapidly, and technology provides a way to continue a relationship with them.