Now and Then: My History with Food on the Internet

By Sandy Hu
The latest from Inside Special Fork

Remember this year’s Super Bowl commercial with Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric, where a young Katie asks, “Alison, can you explain what Internet is?”

That would be the year, as Director of the Ketchum Food Center, I initiated the development of a recipe and cooking website for Ketchum, a global PR agency, with the help of Ketchum Advertising’s interactive team. Not only were most educated people clueless about the Internet, marketing pros were still debating whether the Internet was a trend or fad.

In the summer of 1995, we launched recipe.com. It was so groundbreaking in its time, that when I went to New York City to demonstrate the site to food editors of the biggest national magazines, it was the first time most of them had experienced the “information superhighway,” as we called the Internet then.

While it’s not possible to show you the original launch product, if you go to the Wayback Machine Internet Archive, you can find a few old archived posts for recipe.com, including this one from December 27, 1996. Many of the links are live, but you have to hit your back arrow to navigate, going back and forth from the home page.

The World Wide Web at the time was primarily the domain of young men who were tech geeks. But there were early adopters as well, including women who were on the cutting edge of information gathering, and I found a lively interest in cooking among both men and women. These were the days before the over 2 million food blogs, before the Food Network really took off, and before Facebook and other social media channels existed. So a website like recipe.com was one of the few places for food lovers to gather—to learn and talk about food, recipes and cooking.

We sold the domain name after five years, and it was re-sold to the Meredith Corporation, publisher of many blockbuster national magazines like Better Homes and Gardens, and Family Circle. The groundswell of heartfelt thank you emails I received as we said our final goodbyes to our recipe.com visitors remains one of the highlights of my career.

What recipe.com and other early food websites did back then was to move the “cookbook” from the home to the office. Instead of waiting to get into your kitchen to find a recipe to cook that night, web visitors could make a selection on their workplace computer, getting a jumpstart on the evening meal, neatly solving the 4 p.m., what’s-for-dinner dilemma.

With the advent of mobile technology, Special Fork has moved that cookbook even more conveniently, from the workplace into your pocket or purse. Now when you need an idea for dinner at 4 p.m., you simply whip out your smartphone, go to specialfork.com and do a recipe search, based on the type of food you want to eat, the ingredients you have on hand, or the level of difficulty that suits your cooking skills best.

You can initiate your search wherever you happen to be—in the supermarket, trying to decide what to add to your shopping cart; at the bus stop, anticipating what to fix for dinner; or out on the beach before you return to your vacation rental. Special Fork offers an added advantage: a laser-focus on the weekday dinner solution and a recipe database populated entirely with 30-minute-prep recipes.

The recipe below, which easily fits Special Fork’s prep parameters, is from recipe.com. On that website, a popular feature was the Dear Sandy section, where people could email me food and cooking questions. This recipe was my response to Donna, who owned a B&B in the Bahamas and was looking for an easy breakfast recipe for her guests.

Bahama Brunch Potatoes
2 cups thinly sliced potatoes (about 8 ounces)
Salt, pepper and nutmeg, to taste
2 tablespoons butter
¾ cup half and half or milk
2 eggs
Chopped parsley

In saucepan cook potatoes in boiling water about 5 minutes, until almost tender. Drain; pat dry. Arrange a layer of potato slices over bottom of well-buttered 3-cup ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and nutmeg; dot with some of the butter. Continue layering potatoes with seasonings and butter until all of the potatoes are used. In bowl, beat milk and eggs. Pour over potatoes. Bake in 350-degree oven 25 to 30 minutes until potatoes are tender and custard mixture is just set but still soft. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve warm. Makes 2 servings.

Note: Having made this recipe recently to test again, I’d add the following comments:

  • Total salt should be about ½ teaspoon.
  • You could add ½ cup of shredded cheese between the layers (as I did in the photo).
  • You could also add chopped cooked bacon or sautéed chopped onion.
  • Instead of parsley, add chives, basil – whatever herb you have on hand of companionable flavor.

Special Fork is a recipe website for your smartphone and PC that solves the daily dinnertime dilemma: what to cook now! Check out our recipe database for quick ideas that take no more than 30 minutes of prep time. Follow us on Facebook , Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube.

Posted: Apr 12th by Sandy_Hu