Remember all those Times recipes your mom clipped out and put in a binder? Well, until now, it has been easier to flip through that binder than it has been to save and search for recipes after they run in print. A simple search for “short ribs” turns up 11,600 results. Switch to the past 30 days and you get hundreds of articles, none of them recipes, linked to “ribs.”
And I really like their adaptation of Animal’s Sweet-Sour Balsamic-Glazed Ribs! I need it regularly. But each time I cook it, I have to Google the recipe again. Sometimes I end up at an article about the recipe that links me to the recipe. It’s a process as messy as the ribs themselves.
The Gray Lady’s solution is NYT Cooking, a recipe site built within the NYT platform. Recently launched in beta, it’s a database just for the paper’s recipes, designed for power searching and convenient, orderly archiving of those much-loved recipes.
The first thing you’ll notice when you load the site is a full-bleed food photo–a single dish to jolt your senses. It’s the opposite approach of the default NYT landing page, which is peppered with a variety of news, attention-grabbing stories, and links. Scroll down, and the page morphs into something more along the lines of Pinterest–recipes resemble white cards that you can save to your recipe box or share via social media. If you want to get fancy, you can save an entire meal’s worth of recipes or your favorite vegetarian dishes in a “collection.”
But it’s when you click on the search bar that the interface design feels fully composed. Expect a search for “dumplings” to pull up a few dozen delicious-looking recipe cards. Convenient drop-down menus let you filter the results. Maybe you want to filter results for a nut allergy, or for Asian dumplings, rather than for European dumplings. All non-relevant filters are smartly grayed out–a peanut butter search would deactivate the option to specify “nut free”–so a tedious custom search becomes swift.
Last week, after an internal NYT Innovation Report leaked, we found out that that the paper has spent 15 years trying to create the kind of platform that has finally resulted in NYT Cooking–but they couldn’t, because recipes were never tagged with ingredients or cooking times. The document says the Times spent “a huge sum to retroactively structure the data.” While it’s a stretch to say anything is worth a 15-year wait, searching through some 16,000 recipes, from Middle Eastern dinners to mashed sweet potatoes or dairy-free poached fish is a total joy, and it takes seconds.
But wait. Not all of the Times’ recipes have been retroactively tagged with fresh metadata just yet. In an attempt to recreate a dish from ritzy turn of the century New York, or 1950s Jello-mold-obsessed American housewives, I was dismayed to find that historical content was absent. The closest I got was a 1958 eggnog, apparently in the database only because it had been republished in 2007.
Given that there are 14.7 million articles in the Times archives that date all the way back to 1851, it’s disappointing to discover that the well is only dug a decade or two deep. The Times holds the potential to be both a utility and a piece of history. Why not let me recreate a dinner straight out of 1969 for Mad Men’s season finale? (Advertisers: Meet NYT Cooking.)
That said, even within this far-from-finished beta version, I’ve gotten a taste of what the NYT can be when backed by the interface savvy of a Google, Pinterest, or Epicurious. Their publication’s cooking section can be more than a few new dishes a week; it can be one of the best recipe sites/apps/experiences on the planet. So the question becomes, how many of the Times’ other sections can and will follow suit?
NYT Cooking is currently in closed beta. You can apply (there’s a backlog) to be a future beta tester here.