On Sunday, the New York Times Magazine published an interesting but maddening profile of Christopher Kimball, the nerdy New England jefe of the Cook’s Illustrated empire. The money quote, from which the headline is derived— and what everyone is going to take away—goes like this:

“Cooking isn’t creative, and it isn’t easy. It’s serious, and it’s hard to do well, just as everything worth doing is damn hard.”

As I fumbled along as a home cook in the early 90s, I devoured each issue of Cook’s not just for the obsessively tested recipes of mostly American classics, but for the wealth of information on fundamental techniques and weird, anal-retentive tips (remove cauliflower blemishes with a rasp grater!). Cook’s is great for beginners. But the more you cook the more you realize many, if not most, of these focus-grouped recipes turn out fine, but rarely exceptional. OK, the foolproof pie crust is exceptional, but usually there is no room for serendipity or creativity. It’s cooking by committee, and the results are frequently bland and dull.