Of lazy tandoori and “epicuration”

I love tandoori food. And for many years I stayed away from cooking tandoori food for a variety of trivial reasons. Reasons like not having a tandoor, a tandoori oven. Not having a good tandoori recipe. Not being able to understand the recipe. Not looking forward to eating food cooked by someone who didn’t have the right tools, ingredients, recipes or skill. Not wanting to clear up and wash up after cooking such a meal.

As I said, trivial reasons.

And then one day, like learning to ride a bicycle, all those trivial reasons disappeared. In a matter of hours I was cooking tandoori without a tandoor, not worrying about recipes, actually liking what I cooked and looking forward to eating it. And being able t0 wash up quickly and efficiently.

Why was this? How did it happen?

First, it was because of epicurious. The more I used epicurious, the more I knew about how to get to the right recipes. There’s gold dust in there. Like this recipe for tandoori-style grilled meat or shrimp. 6 servings. Active time 20 minutes. Total time 4.5 hours. Eight ingredients for the marinade, nothing complex, very little work to be done with them. A simple recipe that pretty much consisted of : make marinade. leave meat to marinate. cook. So thank you epicurious.

Second, we discovered cooking liners. No more heavy-duty pan scrubbing needed. Easy to clean and wash, totally reusable. Even dishwasher-friendly.

So here’s the story:

Put the first 8 ingredients into a blender. It should look something like this:

The blended marinade should look something like this:

Marinating “protein” should look like this:

At the start of grilling, it should look a bit like this:

Halfway through it should look like this:

And then at the end it should look like this:

Seriously, it works. 20 minutes of activity, and everything happens just as Victoria Granof, the “author” of the recipe, says it should. Thank you Victoria.

For me, it’s not just about the food, which I love. It’s about how preparing such food is becoming more accessible to many of us. How a site like epicurious works, how people share their “content” freely, how the recipes get reviewed and annotated and voted up and down, how the community participates in all this. How someone like me, from Calcutta, can sit in Windsor, Berkshire and use a recipe submitted by a Cordon Bleu trained pastry chef and relating to cuisine closer to my birthplace than hers by an order of magnitude.

The community element is important, but so is the understanding that for subjects like this, community votes by themselves are of no value. These votes need to be tuned to my personal taste and trust levels. Some intelligence, some wisdom, some experience, some “curation” has to be applied.

It’s like book reviews. Sometimes I run out of things to read while at an airport, usually because I didn’t allow for the scale of delay. So I go to the bookstore or equivalent and take a look. There’s no point my looking for any of my favourite authors, I tend to know about their new books and would usually have bought and read them already. Which means I’m truly in the realm of “airport reads”. And I scan the paperbacks quickly, looking for authors I haven’t heard of. When I find one, I tend to check the inside front cover area for soundbite reviews.

But there’s a short cut. If one of those reviews is by Kirkus then I buy the book, no further questions asked. If the review is a “starred review” then I buy everything else by that author available in that shop.

You see, over the years, I trust Kirkus. [If you want to understand about trust and recommendation and their role in building relationships, in buying and selling, in business in general, then go read Chris Brogan’s Trust Agents. Now.]

That’s what it comes down to, trust. Curation is the process by which aggregate data is imbued with personalised trust.

That’s what Victoria Granof did for me. She appears to spend time going around the world collecting recipes and trying them out, sampling cuisines I am interested in, using cooking styles that appeal to me. Slow and relaxed, simple without being mechanical or bland, relying on natural ingredients.

Community input is valuable. Community voting and recommendation mechanisms help control firehoses, and are far better than product advertising. But you need something more. You need the recommenders to be people you trust, because their tastes are similar to yours. Discovering taste similarity is not easy; it can be automated, but you know something? There’s a lot of joy to be had in the discovery process. Because it makes you do something.

Doing is good.