Cuts Like a Knife

This just came across my radar, and I have to say I’m a little surprised at how hurt and upset I am by it. For the record, I was mortified when I saw the position of my fingers in that photo, but my hands were shaking so badly at the time I couldn’t help it. I am not at all comfortable having my photo taken under any circumstances, and I was extremely nervous having it taken while trying to prep and cook a dish for a professional photographer, knowing that said photos would appear in a rather major national publication.

I am not a culinary professional. I have no formal training. I am exactly what I say I am – a self-taught home cook, who leaves the house at 6:30 in the morning, commutes to Boston to work in an office, gets home a little before 7 p.m., and then cooks dinner for myself and my husband almost every night. And I blog about it because, when I started this almost 3 years ago, it was a fun way to keep track of what we were cooking and eating. And I continue to blog about it because many of you enjoy reading about it, too, and that’s a nice feeling.

I don’t make any money from this blog. I don’t have any visions of fame or fortune or book deals or television shows, and if you are a blogger and you do, that’s great, but that’s not why I got into this at all, and it’s not what drives me. My knife skills are in no way as good as someone who has formal training, but they are also far better than that photo would indicate.

I was taught that if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. I don’t get the point of making mean-spirited comments about someone you don’t know and who has no impact on your life, but I guess I’m just naive.

Update: Wow, you guys. I am touched and humbled by your kind words and incredible show of support. One of the commenters in the linked thread, Carol Blymire, has reached out to me via a mutual friend, and I hope to speak with her today. I don’t want to generate negative comments or attacks, so I’m going to close down comments at this time. Please believe me when I say I truly believe I have the best group of readers around. Thank you.

Epilogue, 11/17/09: I received a phone call from Carol this evening, and she was deeply sorry about her contribution to the thread in question. She was very sweet and sincere, and I think it speaks volumes about her character that she took the time to speak with me. To be clear, while her name may have been the most recognizable in that thread, her comment wasn’t the most hurtful, so I was a little disturbed to see some of the vitriol aimed her way in the comments here. She’s a class act, and I’d like to just put this whole mess behind us. As always, you guys rock and I’m honored by your kind words and endless support.

58 thoughts on “Cuts Like a Knife

  1. Adina says:

    It’s sad that people get their jollies by cutting (har har har) other people down like that. Some people are obviously more interested in being elitist than they are in sharing good food, recipes, and ideas. I’m glad you’re not one of those people.

    Your blog continues to be a source of inspiration to many– don’t let these few haters keep you down.

  2. JoJo says:

    meh, it reeks of jealousy to me. let the haters hate! you’re an incredible cook and that’s why you were featured.

  3. Jessica says:

    Wow. They aren’t just food snobs, they’re food ass holes.

    Don’t let ’em get you down. We all love your down-to-earth style. You rock.

  4. Rebecca says:


    I’m so sorry you had to see this. Awful. You are an inspiration. Not sure if you saw the Bittman interview in TONY, but he also mentions how his skills are not professional, but what’s important is getting good food on the table. You do more than that. You create delicious meals that are beautiful to look at. I wish I had your plating skills and your eye. I look forward to reading your blog everyday.


  5. Michelle says:

    I am shocked to see that Carol Blymire for whom I had (until today) so much respect would contribute to the nasty comments. Shame on her! You just keep doing what you’re doing. You are an incredible cook.

  6. The blog world used to be a kinder, gentler place, a community that supported each other and had the good manners to criticize in private. Whenever someone writes a nasty comment, it reflects poorly on the writer. I do know some of the people who left comments on that wiki. It makes me sad to see that.

  7. If I had to point to the worst thing about the internet, it would be—easily—the ability for people to cut others down in a faceless, cowardly way. People scramble left and right to come up with their “zingers” that they can smack out onto the internet without even thinking about any real conseqeuences, nothing more than trying to get a laugh out of their friends. It doesn’t matter the subject, it always seems to exist, things that no one would say if it had to be to the person they were talking about. Because, in the world of the internet, so many people don’t stop to think that these are people they’re talking about instead of dots on a screen.

    It’s not easy to do so, but once the sting is gone I hope you don’t let it bother you. It’s sad to say but I’m sure the people who are making mocking comments have already mentally moved on, not even thought twice about what they’re really saying. And of course, that’s more time than their snideness deserves.

  8. Heather says:

    It’s a shame that people feel it necessary to be so nasty and rude. I love your blog. Please continue to write and post those beautiful photos!

  9. Yours was the first food blog I ever read and it continues to be my go to resource for inspiration and damn fine food. And I will continue to read it, recommend it and get inspiration from it as long as you write it.

  10. Having been burned by the Internet a few times too many my own self, I can’t tell you how much I sympathize. But for every one silly, catty, unnecessary remark made online, there are probably ten people thinking nice things, admiring the piece, checking out your blog for the first time and being inspired by the food life you lead outside of what is already a very busy and very productive daily life.

    You are doing something fun and fantastic. Don’t let anybody ever shake you out of loving it, even for a second.

  11. JulieJewel says:

    I get so much enjoyment out of your blog…you’re always so inventive and have inspired me to check out my local farmer’s market more.
    try and ignore the playa haters…they’re just anonymous people being snarky in their pajamas.

  12. Abiah says:

    I echo Michelle’s sentiments – I was kind of grossed out by Blymire’s snark. Of all people to be mocking the skills of a “home cook”? Please! I like reading blogs of home cooks just because it gives inspiration for “regular” food. I like reading blogs of professional cooks or people who are attempting professional-grade recipes because those inspire too. I think your approach is unique, and it deserves respect, so keep on truckin’ and don’t let the snark of people who apparently have forgotten their own status as humble cooks get you down.

  13. Lynn Kent says:

    You are wonderful! Had sad that people who don’t know you judge you so harshly –
    Cook on! Chop on!
    Lynn in RI

  14. Yours might not have been the first food blog I read, but it certainly was the first one I felt any real connection to. Even though I rarely comment, you’ve been a source of inspiration to me more times than I can count over the past three years and I hope you’ll still be here inspiring me and all the others like me for many years to come.

  15. perhaps they are just jealous that THEY weren’t the one featured in the article. Obviously they think they have better knife skills – whatever, if their food doesn’t inspire like yours does, who cares how perfectly they hold a stupid knife. Food isn’t about looking perfect when you’re making it – it’s about making the ones you love feel loved when you feed them, and enjoying the process. And you obviously have both of those down in spades, so ignore the small minds that have to cut someone else to feel better.

  16. Oh fuck them, Jen. It’s nothing-better-to-do jealousy and trollism. Any kind of success will bring the maggots crawling out, so learn to expect it and to shrug it off.


  17. sarah says:

    Honestly I’m surprised you haven’t run into something like this before. Not because you deserve any criticism, but because the internet is rife with anonymous (or not so anonymous) meanies and trolls. Your blog and you are much better than even needing to respond to this stuff. Keep cooking, posting and inspiring me to create delicious meals with leftover pork shoulder!

  18. Let the record show there are MANY more people who love your blog and have no qualms about the way you hold a knife than there are people who feel the need to be sassy and mean-spirited over a (let’s keep it real) SILLY issue! Let those people say what they want to say…you know you’re awesome and you have lots of people behind you who couldn’t care less if you tore your food by mouth before putting it in the pan. (Dramatic, I know, but I’m serious!)

  19. Wow. Just wow. First of all, if someone’s going to use that photo as the basis for developing their knife skills, they have other problems that require far further help than any of us can provide. I saw it as a beautiful photo of you doing what you love, and as far as I’m concerned, you still have all ten fingers, right? And your food gets chopped up the way you like it? So seriously…the haters need to all sit down.

    And I, too, was really sad to see that Carol Blymire was one of the first to the table, so to speak, in the slamming of those skills. One of the things I love about the food blogging community is that is usually so supportive. That comment was, um, not so much so. I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she didn’t so much mean it as a slam on you but rather just on the NYTimes, but still…

    Anyway, I loved the article, loved the photo, assume your knife skills are fine, and think you’re awesome. So there. 🙂

  20. Lindsey says:

    I read your blog religiously and am inspired by you everyday. It really is a shame that people think the anonymity the web provides makes it okay to say very hurtful thinkgs that they would never say directly to your face.

    And as others have said, it’s jealousy.

    Don’t let this get you down – your fans and the people you inspire everyday to try something new need you!

  21. JennKD says:

    I thought the point of the article was home cooks taking it up to a whole new level. Who the hell cares how you cut it if it tastes good and looks beautiful. It was probably her insecurity at NOT BEING in the New York Times that put her over the edge… 😉

  22. Sara says:

    Oh man, those people all need to get a life. Seriously. Keep making our mouths water here on your site. Start a quiet revolution while they are busy bitching. Keep on truckin’.

  23. Allie says:

    Hi Jen. I just wanted to let you know that I love your blog. It is clear that you make time in your busy life to cook fantastic food for yourself and the people you love. It inspires me to do the same. Thank you. And, I can guarantee you that my knife skills are at least 10 times worse than yours! But, who cares anyway?

  24. Jen,
    I enjoy your blog quite a bit, and I think you just shouldn’t worry about it. It’s hard, it’s personal and it hurts, but you’re better than letting an article like that get you down. I’m sort of surprised they used your picture, since you didn’t contribute to the article. It seems like something at my newspaper we would have at least notified you of.
    – MM

  25. Nevermind. I see you are quoted. Did they tell you what the article was about? Was the author transparent? If not, that seems unethical according to modern journalism. Good journalists don’t do “gotcha” stories, they tell their interviewees the truth, knowing that real people don’t understand they can be fitted into less than flattering stories.
    – MM

  26. Jen says:

    People are all too eager to spew hate and ignorance through the internet, and need to be paid little attention. Your blogging touches so many people, and I personally love seeing the inspirational ingredients and meals that you select and create. Ignore the idiots, and know that your loyal (if somewhat quiet!) readers love you!

  27. alison says:

    Clearly these people do not read your blog regularly and don’t see the amazing food that comes out of your kitchen nightly. You’re an inspiration over here in my small kitchen in Brooklyn – in fact, I am making ribollita as we speak, inspired by an old post of yours. So thanks!!

  28. Jennifer Hess says:

    Thanks, everyone, so much.

    Margo – my issue wasn’t with the NYT article *at all* – I was delighted to be a part of it, talking about a site that I am very proud to be affiliated with, and the people involved in writing and publishing that article were absolutely professional and wonderful to work with. My issue was with the snarky comments left in the item I linked to in the first word of this post, which references the fact that the photo published showed me demonstrating less than appropriate knife+finger positioning in the kitchen. I felt those comments were needless and hurtful, and because I’m thin-skinned me, I felt compelled to address them here.

  29. As a longtime reader of your blog and Carol’s blogs, I was really, really disappointed to see that comment from her. I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt, and like Genie, assume her snark was on the Times and that she didn’t realize it would come across as rather mean-spirited toward you.

    Your blog has always inspired me to cook; keep on keeping on!

  30. Hi Jen. Don’t let the bastards get you down! The original NYT article was really interesting and very cool that you were quoted in it, and i think it drove a lot of positive traffic to your blog. I know i said something about your hand position myself at the time here on your blog, but it was a lighthearted aside in a comment that was otherwise full of my admiration for you, and i hope you didn’t find it hurtful!

  31. Lessa Bouchard says:

    So excited to have come across this controversy! Otherwise I would have been denied the great joy of seeing you in this article and enjoying your wonderful blog- of which I was only vaguely aware before, but now I’m planning to explore it. I loved that NYT article. What a wonderful way to share a piece of your life with us Jennifer! You have always been an inspiration as an artist and a writer- this is no exception.

  32. Della says:

    It seems the world is sometimes full of less-than-perfect people with nothing better to do than “tweet” idiotic comments. I am also thin-skinned and would be equally hurt, so I understand how you must feel. But we will never please everyone! Take care and feel better – and thanks for sharing all the wonderful photos, thoughts and recipes on your blog!

  33. For me the bizarre thing about her comment is that the knife skills she is talking about are to keep you safe in a volume caterning environment. The difference between that and cooking for two is like the difference between a good photocopy operator and Picasso… Keep working for passion, not production.

  34. Hey, don’t let it get to you. Knife skills are ok to have, and are something for (mainly) men to get competitive about but far more imporant are the creativity and joy you obviously bring to cooking, that shows through in your blog.

  35. I can only agree with all of the above comments – such a pity to see stupid little snipes like that on Twitter, but they’re not worth a damn and ultimately shine a spotlight on their own inadequacies. Goodness knows that my whole body would have the nervous shakes with an NYT camera pointed in its general direction! I now know not to pay Carol Blymire any mind in the future on any matters, food or otherwise, while continuing to return to your site again and again – it’s an inspiration for what heights ‘real world’ cooking can reach, the kind that comes at the end of a working day, the kind that really matters.  

  36. Margie says:

    I don’t see the point in being mean to people they have never met. I do those so called bad knife skills all the time and my food still tastes pretty dang good, if I do say so myself.

    Hate just produces more unnecessary hate. Keep on cooking, Jen cause I love your food, cats, food, food pics, cats and the hubby oh, and most of all, you.

  37. Sue says:

    Jen, Keep blogging! I agree that it sounds like jealousy. You didn’t boast about being a professional chef , only your love of food and cooking. Your photos are beautiful and I love to be inspired by what you make.

  38. Becca says:

    How awful of people to purposely take the time out of their ‘esteemed’ day to be nasty. It’s really sad that the internet culture is becoming a war zone were people feel the need to attack anything and anyone for NO reason. You and your talents are incredible.

  39. Bill P says:

    I Love your blog. I try to use good knife technique, and I am a home chef too, no training. I applaud you for all that you do, and clearly- those jerks are just jealous of your beautiful website, delicious food and beverages, and your happiness. Cook on!

  40. Julia says:

    I also find it interesting to observe how “knife skills” are fetishized as a sign of professionalism. Undoubtedly they are crucial in a practical sense (as William observed) but they also serve in this public food universe as almost an abstract marker of being one of the ones who knows, perhaps of being professionally trained (or at least of having taken professional courses): in other words, it’s part of a power game. Knowing to observe knife skills is like knowing about typesetting (in a very different professional environment)–it marks you as not being a muggle and it’s an oddly important gesture for those who make it, as if making sure everyone else knows they know it is more important than just knowing it. But for those of us who just cook, and manage to cut things up perfectly competently every day in the process of feeding ourselves and our families, without cutting off our fingers, “knife skills” are a means to an end, not a sign like a toque that says “I’m in!”.

    Keep up the great work and remember how glad we all are to be able to read a wonderful, down-to-earth blog that’s really about making and eating food, not about weird little power games.

  41. Please don’t let this get you down.

    I want to reiterate what I have said on Last Night’s Dinner before and what all the other commentators wrote above, your writing and photos are excellent and inspiring. It’s so easy to resort to snark and sarcasm, what you do on Last Night’s Dinner is so much more difficult and so much more important and beneficial to the food community.

    Thank you (and Mike) for all the hard work.

  42. It’s damn hard not to be thin-skinned when you take your avocation so very seriously, dear one. I hope this chorus of support helps you to let the next snarky comment (because there will be another, no matter how hard you try) roll on off!
    Keep up the good work!

  43. kit says:

    I didn’t even bother to look at this. Your site is one of my favorites . . . you’re very talented. Ignore them.

  44. Steph says:

    Screw Carol Blymire and her self righteous self-love. I used to follow her blog and Twitter feed but she’s so full of herself that I just couldn’t read another word.

    Your food always looks fantastic! Fuck everyone else’s opinion. 🙂

  45. Em says:

    I am a home chef with no formal training and I’ve been a fan of your blog for about a year. Your recipes and approach to food preparation and design are inspirational. Certainly, you know that your photography is phenomenal.
    Ignore the vile comments from so called “professional” chefs. The economy is bad, many more people are cooking at home and I bet more than a few of the professionals are feeling a little insecure right now.
    Keep up the good work.

  46. Billie says:

    I am shocked that someone could have such a mean spirit. I speak for myself and I am sure many more feel the same, Your blog inspires me to eat healthier, to be so much more creative! I just love the way you cook, love the idess you have for simple ingredients and how you pare things up! I have learned, ejoyed and relaxed with your blog. I could care less if you were trained by the best or just got it on your own. You rest easy young lady, you are enjoyed for YOU, not how you hold a knife!

  47. Didn’t even bother to open the link to see what they said. That would give them more credence than they deserve. You are an amateur in the purest sense of the word (someone who does it for the love or amour of it) which is why the rest of us who are likewise amateurs so enjoy peeking at your site. I’m sorry some caddy person who obviously needs to get a real life rather than trying to elevate hers by simply demeaning others, hurt your feelings. Raspberries on her. That’s the spitty, noisy tongue wagging kind – not the sweet, juicy, organic do I have time to make some jam kind!

    PS: How is Kali doing?

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