Decades from now, when cultural historians sift through the social media posts of 2020, they will tell the pandemic stories of savvy chefs and restaurateurs forced to pivot to meal kits, corner markets and sidewalk cafes as their industry collapsed, seemingly overnight. These historians will note the panic shopping of early March, as Americans rushed to buy N95 masks, toilet paper and Clorox wipes, along with whatever pantry staples they could find, 20-pound bags of flour and industrial-size bricks of active dry yeast included.
And they’ll have to scroll through mind-numbing photographs of bread — millions of misshapen, deflated, underdone boules that, as the months went by, gave way to airy, burnished and scored loaves artfully posed with crocks of house-smoked compound butter. Will they note that for some of the quarantined that single act of posting a loaf of bread on Instagram justified another housebound day?
The stories our readers craved this year were those that served as a kind of masters-level home economics course for the quarantined. Here, in ascending order, are the pieces that kept readers focused and fed, the journalism that made them better cooks.
By November, most people were just plain tired of cooking, but Thanksgiving required more. Margaux Laskey’s recipe roundup offered some less-labor-intensive inspiration for subdued holiday gatherings.
In April, as the realization set in that quarantine was going to last longer than anyone had imagined, Ali Slagle gave readers permission to cook their pasta and sauce in one pot, with delicious results.
We at NYT Cooking and the Food desk have worked remotely since March, gaining the small luxury of making lunches (and breakfasts and dinners) at home. Kasia Pilat compiled the greatest hits, the recipes we’ve leaned on in much the same way we used to rely on the takeout dumplings and dan dan noodles near the office.
It’s mayonnaise, but that didn’t stop our readers from making tins and tins of this chocolate cake.
Too easy. To make, and also to eat. I forgot to add the powdered sugar. I guess I have to make it again. Eric, US
In February, Priya Krishna answered the age-old question: How do nudists cook? Carefully, and clothed in a T-shirt, if deep-frying is on the agenda.
In May, Melissa unleashed a no-bake cookie that satisfied the craving for a peanut butter cup. It was a few months into the pandemic, and readers appreciated the recipe’s flexibility.
Don’t you love the way Melissa encourages you to use what have, substitute with abandon, and use recipes as jumping-off points instead of road maps? Thanks, Melissa, for exemplifying culinary creativity! Nettleja, Cincinnati
The pandemic has been catastrophic for the restaurant industry. In May, Food reporters and editors celebrated a dozen restaurants from around the country, from the Piper Inn in Denver, with its carne asada cheese fries, to Phoenicia in Birmingham, Mich., with its garlic whip.
I’m a reformed restaurateur. This lovely article made me miss the old days. These guys represent the best spirit of restaurant culture. I encourage everyone out there to do what they can to support their favorite local establishments. Michael, Brevard, N.C.
Charlotte Druckman tracked down the recipe for Ravneet Gill’s perfect chocolate chip cookie, though readers had mixed feelings about the pastry chef’s idea of perfection: wet-sand crumb surrounding chips of viscous molten chocolate.
I never met, ate a chocolate chip cookie I did not like. Some are better than others but I never met one I did not like. Paul, Brooklyn
Recipe: Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Dalgona coffee, made by whipping instant coffee with sugar and water, took social media by storm this spring, and Vaughn Vreeland, a video producer for NYT Cooking, brought a tutorial to readers in April.
Thanks to my teenage daughter, who probably saw this on Instagram or TikTok, I have become seriously addicted to whipped coffee while working at home. I’ve tried to limit myself to one glass a day, but it’s really hard because it is that good. It’s really simple to make — I make a few batches at once and store the extra in the fridge. Sandra, NY
Recipe: Whipped Coffee
Six months into the pandemic, Americans had drastically changed their shopping habits. Kim Severson’s story looked at the shift, from the explosion in online sales to better shopping lists.
If we ever get back to normal, I will continue the consumer behavior outlined in this article. I can’t speak for everyone, but our household was eating out way too much pre-Covid, and we didn’t even realize it. B D Duncan, Boston
Toss together hot pasta and whatever leftovers are in the refrigerator chopped up; topped with one egg per person and grated cheese (if available). This was a great dinner a young couple shared with me when I was traveling in my 20s in Italy. I will always remember their kindness. Johnw, Pa
On a Monday morning in June, the writer Tammie Teclemariam tweeted a 2004 photo of Adam Rapoport, the editor in chief of Bon Appétit, and his wife, Simone Shubuck, dressed as a stereotype of a Puerto Rican couple, after Illyanna Maisonet, a Puerto Rican food writer, had called out the magazine for its Eurocentric content. By the afternoon Mr. Rapoport had resigned, as Condé Nast tried to shore up its magazine’s reputation in the face of criticism of how it treats employees of color. In the days that followed, Matt Duckor, a vice president in charge of programming, also departed, and editors who had helped the magazine grow its YouTube channel, like Sohla El-Waylly, had walked away from on-camera work for the brand. In August, Condé Nast named Dawn Davis as the magazine’s new editor in chief.
The fact that folks are somewhat nonchalant about the photo (and noting that it’s no big deal to be “condescending”) is the exact point — the insensitivity, disregard and downplaying is just the kind of implicit bias that must stop. Barbara Finley, Los Angeles
In February, print readers received a special section with 24 recipes requiring only one cooking vessel. “Whether you like cooking, love it or are indifferent to the task, most of us can agree that washing a lot of pots and pans after dinner is a drag,” Sam Sifton wrote. “Wouldn’t it instead be easier if there was really only one? One skillet or one Dutch oven, one sheet pan, one pot? Wouldn’t that be great?” It was a prescient collection for the year that was.
J. Kenji López-Alt walked readers through the expiration dates to follow and those to ignore. “Here’s the first thing you should know,” he wrote. “Expiration dates are not expiration dates.”
As I constantly tell my partner and kids, “Best Before” does not mean “Bad After.” Selena61, Canada
As the lockdowns began in March, readers turned to Melissa Clark for advice on how to keep grocery shopping to a minimum through smarter pantry shopping. This list, far and away the section’s most-read story of the year, covered the basics, including tips on storage.
While you’re stocking your pantry it’s a good idea to reach out to any elderly or solitary neighbors and ask if you can pick up anything for them while you are out/online shopping. Valletta, Bay Area
And in Case You Missed Them …
The year 2020 felt like an eternity, and with so many flash points — Covid-19, the presidential election, wildfires, protests following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, travel restrictions, isolation, remote learning and parenting while working from home — it was easy to miss a story. Here are some of our favorite reads from the section this year, in no particular order.
The Court of Master Sommeliers confers high honors, but many women candidates told Julia Moskin that they’ve paid a steep price.
Florence Fabricant does things her way. And this Thanksgiving, she urged readers to do the same, skipping the pie and churning ice cream and sorbet instead.
Kim Severson looked at how a family in Fort Bend, Ind., opened their home to dozens of Black Notre Dame students for Thanksgiving, and how the pandemic changed their celebration this year.
Tejal Rao called for a change in restaurant kitchens, arguing that casting the chef as the star comes at too great of a cost — abuse and unfairness — to the workers around him.
Brett Anderson profiled the restaurateur Kuan Lim, whose Lucky Palace restaurant has drawn wine lovers to Shreveport, La., for decades.
Pete Wells checked in on Marilyn Hagerty, the North Dakota restaurant reviewer who found nationwide fame a decade ago for her viral review of an Olive Garden.
In the early days of the lockdown, Eric Asimov wrote about the stigma of drinking wine alone.
The pandemic has cemented outdoor dining’s place in New York. Pete Wells contemplated how that change will alter the city’s restaurant experience.