So what is a recipe tester and what is their role? Recipe testers are people that prepared my recipes, following the instructions EXCATLY. The goal was not to determine if the recipe worked… After all, I knew that if I prepared any given recipe, it would turn out well. Rather I wanted to determine if they understood what I was trying to communicate and were able to get identical or close-to-identical results to mine. If they didn’t, then it most likely meant I was not communicating something correctly. The recipe testers were instructed to measure out all ingredients exactly, not make any substitutions and to reach out to me with questions. Once they completed the recipe, they filled out an evaluation form where they commented on the end result and pointed any issues they had in preparing the recipe. With all this information, I was able to improve the quality of the written recipe and move on to the writing of the manuscript.
You might be wondering how I knew if the issues that arose had to do with the quality of my written recipe or with the skill set of the recipe tester. For starters, I chose people that had a good command of English (the book was written in English after all) and had some basic cooking skills. I sent them a detailed questionnaire asking them various questions about their cooking skills and what ingredients they felt comfortable cooking with. I also inquired about dietary constraints and preferences. This allowed me to assign recipes in a more systematic way and in line with people’s skill sets and preferences. In addition, I had each recipe tested by three different people. If the same issue came up more than once, it was clearly an issue with how I had written the recipe. If only one person brought up a particular issue, then I needed to go deeper to understand what caused the final outcome. But for the most part, in the few instances there was an issue, the opinions of the testers seemed to be aligned with each other.
As you can see, having other test your recipes is a pretty laborious process to manage… Before embarking on this step, I was quite fearful of it. The issue was not so much managing 30 recipe testers... For that, Excel was my best friend! But I was actually concerned that I would be sent back to the drawing board, rather than move forward. While I did have to go back and improve the written quality of some recipes, it was not as bad as I feared. In addition, I learned that if you are serious about writing a cookbook, you MUST have recipe testers. They are essentially your quality control.