Amateur but aspiring chefs can often be discouraged by the small pitfalls that occur in the kitchen: risotto that's too sticky, soups gone wrong, or realizing halfway through a "beer can chicken" that they have no idea what to do next.
For cooks like these, Alison McConnell '04 has the answers.
As editor and creator of the online publication "The Humble Gourmand" McConnell seeks to reach readers who love food but aren't necessarily pros in the kitchen.
The Humble Gourmand, updated on a monthly basis, was first launched on December 17. Planning for the publication, however, started when McConnell began thinking of ways to combine her interest in writing with her interest in food.
"The writing part probably came first," said McConnell, who was a staff writer for the Orient during her time at Bowdoin and Senior Editor in her final year.
Since graduating from Bowdoin, McConnell's love for journalism launched her into a career as a reporter. Though she was reporting mainly on financial and economic issues, her activities on the side kept her mind elsewhere.
"I had been spending a lot of time planning what I was going to be eating that day," McConnell said. "I was getting more and more interested in eating and cooking."
"I thought about quitting reporting and going to culinary school," she said.
In the end, however, McConnell found that she could merge her passions for cooking and journalism into one, with the help of fellow Bowdoin graduate, Jackson Wilkinson '05.
"I got involved in the idea of the Gourmand last summer, when Alison was talking to me about how she might get involved in writing about food and wine," said Wilkinson. "She was thinking about writing a blog, but everyone and their brother has a food blog these days."
Instead, Wilkinson and McConnell collaborated to create a site that would become a real publication.
After McConnell came up with a name, Wilkinson came up with the design concept for the site.
"For the design, I wanted to have a clean look that would focus on the typography and setting of the article text and provide a nice backdrop for food photography, which will eventually expand in its importance on the site," said Wilkinson. "I was hoping for something that was at once classy and fresh but still youthful and non-pretentious."
"We concentrated on creating a site that is easy on the eyes, shows off the content, feels like a legit magazine, and offers the ability for users to comment and give feedback on almost everything on the site," said Wilkinson.
As McConnell was collaborating with Wilkinson, she was also sharing ideas with fellow cook and wine-enthusiast Lauren McNally '03, who agreed to contribute.
"When Alison and I initially discussed the Humble Gourmand, my first instinct was to balk at the idea of offering my opinions on something so subjective as wine," said McNally. "But the Humble Gourmand has been really good for my confidence in putting my writing out there."
McNally, who writes the wine reviews for the publication, said that although she had learned to like wine by having the occasional glass at dinner, she became fascinated by wine when she moved to the Washington D.C. area two and half years ago.
"I became fascinated by the more personal, artistic side of wine through visits to local vineyards and wineries. Though many of the wines produced aren't comparable to something you'd find in Bordeaux or Napa, that doesn't really matter?this is the product of years of hard work and passion," said McNally.
"It is that artistic passion, combined with the nuanced and enigmatic nature of wine and my love of cooking, that drives me to continue to learn as much as I possibly can about wine. The more I know about it, the more I can appreciate the work that goes into making it," she added.
In addition to being passionate about wine, McNally, like McConnell, also enjoys cooking.
"She and I had done a lot of cooking together," said McConnell, adding that their personalities?McNally's creativity and McConnell's organized side?are compatible qualities in the kitchen.
Though the two sometimes follow recipes, they also have invented some recipes and adapted some from cook-books. Regardless of where the recipe comes from, however, it is tested at least a couple times before it is published on the site.
"The process is the same no matter how it came about," said McConnell. "I test them at least two to three times myself, and have somebody else test it on their own."
McConnell said that the purpose of having someone else try it who is not affiliated with the site is to make sure it is an accessible recipe that anyone can follow.
Current articles on the site are "Risotto 101," which "demystifies" the Italian dish, "Getting Started in the Kitchen," which explains the tools and pantry supplies needed for a starter kitchen, and "Beer Can Chicken," complete with a detailed description of how to fit half a beer can into a chicken.
Though the first two issues of the Humble Gourmand primarily featured articles written by McConnell and McNally, McConnell hopes that future issues will feature a variety of writers.
"[In] the most recent issue we started what I hope is a trend of other people contributing," said McConnell.
McConnell said that writer friends who are living in places like France and South Africa have contacted her, eager to contribute.
"One of the best parts about this is that people have kind of come out of the woodwork," she said.
Since the launch on December 17, the Humble Gourmand has had over 12,000 visits to the site, with users from 124 countries, according to McConnell.
According to McNally, sharing the passion for food and wine with others who have the same interests has been the most rewarding aspect.
"The response has been tremendous," she said. "Much of our audience consists of our family and friend networks, but we do have a fair share of randoms out there who enjoy it, which validates our knowledge on the subject. That's pretty cool."