Dobrow Discovers His Inner Foodie

Media Reviews for Media People: Delish

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When I cook, people die. As the oldest of three siblings, I was sometimes charged with taking a ready-made meal out of the refrigerator and microwaving it, a task that often ended in a visit from the fire marshal. Other days, I'd wrestle open a Chicken of the Sea tin, empty its contents and add mayonnaise to create my oft-imitated Tuna Surprise (the surprise was the abundance of airborne viruses that found their way into the casserole). I can't tell you how many of my babysitting/catering sessions ended with my little sister convalescing in the botulism ward.
Delish: Is anybody minding the muffins?
Delish: Is anybody minding the muffins?

I've since become borderline handy around the kitchen, aided by my old pal Kim's supposed "retard-proof" recipes. No, nothing I scare up will ever tantalize the dine-with-utensils set, nor be immediately recognizable to the untrained eye as food. But left to my own devices, I will somehow subsist. I'm like a desperate raccoon that way.

Saved by the web
The web offers sturdy guidance for me and my fellow scavengers. Faced with a fierce hunger and the usual contents of my fridge -- peanut butter, garlic cloves, a Saran Wrap'd entity that may or may not at one point in its lifetime have been a mammal -- I can throw together a passable breakfast, thanks to the numerous practical-minded everyday food websites out there. In the rare instances I feel ambitious or am inclined to smoke out the nice people downstairs, I turn to one place only: Condé Nast's The so-serious site, which rhapsodizes about "iconic" recipes, has long been the only game in town for foodies of discriminating taste and limited reading-comprehension skills.

As of last month, however, Epicurious has had to contend with its first-ever rival. Adding a tablespoon of measured whimsy to the usual avalanche of recipes, the Hearst-fueled Delish aims to simplify, simplify, simplify in a manner that makes legit culinary options realistic for just about any would-be foodsmith. It hits somewhere on the intellectual scale between Epicurious and Yahoo Food, offering neither the former's high-minded gustatory adventures (the Epicurious staff must have a full-time Provence bureau) nor the latter's shameless link-baiting (like "What Never to Eat From Vending Machines," aimed at the slow-blinkers who just can't pass on the processed sushi).

Too high or too low?
I can't decide whether Delish shoots too low or not low enough. It replaces online eating mainstays such as culinary travel and nutrition tips with games, quizzes and the like, and shuns the advice and community-building components so essential to any foodie site. I won't pretend to speak for those who aren't legally estopped from entering the kitchen, but asked to choose between two recipe depots, I'm not picking the one that prominently touts its "foodscopes." Even if they're uncannily accurate: Apparently my candied-yogurt fixation suggests that "trouble may be brewing just underneath the surface today." So engage me at your own risk.

Meanwhile, Delish is a mess organizationally. Where Epicurious has the good sense not to overwhelm visitors with information, the Delish home page teems with headlines, departments, favorites, search boxes, videos, blogs and polls. Yet despite the content smorgasbord, Delish sometimes gives off the impression that nobody's minding the muffins, so to speak. At 9:56 a.m. EST on Thursday morning, the site greeted visitors with the curlicue-fonted headline, "It's Wednesday, time to take a break."

At least Delish attempts to forge a distinct personality. The site breaks from the competition by fixating on celebrity chefs, offering bloggy commentaries on their shows and a generous heaping of video clips. Here's a question, though: Aren't fans of these personalities going to look elsewhere -- to the personalities' own sites or to the sites of the networks that air their shows -- before heading towards an aggregator like Delish?

Delish's identity crisis
While Hearst culls the Delish content from its magazine websites, MSN handles the ad sales and syndication ... and kinda screws it up. Ads for cheapie Levi's, Cole Haan shoes, Vonage and Hawaiian Airlines make little sense for a food-first destination, so clearly something's wonky with the automated ad-serving system. And that doesn't even mention the sponsored links for acid-reflux balms and tummy-flab reducer-izers. Nothing screams "upscale operation" like sponsored links.

I think Delish has to decide what, precisely, it wants to be. Me, I'd suggest pressing forward with the foodies-with-personality thing. It wouldn't be too challenging to make that adjustment: Delish could simply up the celebrity-chef quotient even further -- stalk their well-seasoned asses if need be -- then hire a gaggle of the food blogosphere's most interesting, amusing and/or strident voices (and, of course, allow them to speak freely). I don't see any other way for Delish to elbow in on either Epicurious or the regular-food-for-time-crunched-families sites. It arrived on the scene too late to succeed in its current incarnation.
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