Everybody has questions about cooking. At food52—a place where chefs, bakers, cookbook authors, and other various gourmands go to talk food—cofounders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs want to help their audience find the best answers.
The conversation's salt lick is the Food52 Hotline, a real-time, mobile optimized question and answer center that allows at-home cooks to tweet questions about their cooking practices to Food 52 community members. Open since September 2010, the hotline has recently become a major focus for Hesser and Stubbs, who say its open forum approach is the perfect medium for culinary troubleshooting.
"You can Google tons of cooking questions, and people do all the time," said Hesser, a former staff writer at The New York Times. "But with a lot of cooking questions, there's no binary answer. The best answers come from people who have experienced the same thing."
Hesser and Stubbs have been able to build a community out of those people, the ones who have stood in their kitchens and wondered how to make grits, what to do with that leftover white wine, or whether they can freeze pizza dough. About thirty community members will post each day, with the majority coming at dinner, right around the time that at-home chefs are breaking out the vegetable oil.
"We try to bring the community together to serve a purpose that other cooking sites can't. Everybody has cooking questions; that's universal. But you need people who are really passionate and knowledgeable about food to answer them. We've built the type of community that can help these people."
Food52 Hotline's regular contributors are good—Hesser refers to them as "power users," and the site has a section for Hotline MVPs. And Hesser says they're about to get better.
On Monday the site launched Hotline Office Hours, a new feature that will bring cookbook authors, big-name chefs, and other food personalities to the site to answer hotline questions "on the spot" for one hour a week. Answering questions today is Melissa Clark, a food columnist at The New York Times. (Hesser listed pastry chef Shuna Lydon and authors Dorie Greenspan and Michael Ruhlman as future hotline experts.)
"What you're looking at with the hotline is very much a Version 1.0 right now," Hesser said. "We're going to spend a lot of time in the next year making it much more sophisticated, where people can communicate with experts in certain topic areas and follow certain topics, and where community members can answer the urgent questions."
Like "I have a dozen eggs to be used today. What would you do with them?"