By Twitter and Facebook are helping Rocco DiSpirito write his new cookbook.
The media savvy chef is turning to social networks to help decide which dishes he should include in his new book, devoted to healthy versions of popular dishes. He's asking fans directly for their opinions, such as in this recent query: "How important is pulled pork and chocolate chip cookies to you for inclusion in my healthy food makeover cookbook?"
Tweets and posts with suggestions came flowing back (with a strong pro-pork sentiment on Facebook).
It may sound like a publicity gimmick for the interactive age, but DiSpirito said the experiment in culinary cyber-populism will make his cookbook more relevant, and will hopefully inspire more people to pick up a spatula.
"If your job is to make someone who wants to cook at home feel like they really can, then you owe it to them to figure out what they want," DiSpirito said in a telephone interview.
The cookbook, which is due March 2 and lacks a final title, consists of healthier versions of what DiSpirito calls America's favorite "downfall dishes," those beloved but often unwholesome foods such as burgers, enchiladas, mac and cheese and fried chicken. DiSpirito's self-imposed creative challenge was to shave off calories or carbs from classic dishes without making them taste like cardboard.
His retinkered burger patty, for instance, includes lean beef mixed with turkey. His "unfried" chicken is de-skinned, poached, coated with low-fat breading, then flash-fried in grape seed oil.
DiSpirito is keeping control in the kitchen. But he thought it natural to crowdsource for a cookbook that includes the phrase "most popular dishes," even if it plays against the stereotype of the chef as a culinary autocrat.
Collaborative cookbooks are nothing new, though most are compilations of recipes from multiple sources, such as the old community cookbooks or the Brass sisters' recent collections of heirloom recipes.
Pam Fradkin, who tracks trends as a customer service representative for the online cookbook store Jessica's Biscuit at ecookbooks.com, said modern takes on "comfort foods" are big right now. The use of social media during the cookbook's creation is new, she said.
"This is different," Fradkin said. "Social media allows for very immediate gratification of what you want now, not necessarily of what you've wanted for the past 10 years."
DiSpirito has a highbrow pedigree that includes an education at the Culinary Institute of America and a successful stint heading the three-star Union Pacific restaurant in New York City.
There are a bunch of celebrity chefs who tweet or post, among them Bobby Flay, Jamie Oliver, Giada De Laurentiis and Rick Bayless. Some, like Bayless, actually respond to tweeters seeking cooking tips. But many celebrity chef updates consist of little more than where they travel, when their TV shows are airing and what they ate for breakfast.
DiSpirito is taking advantage of the give-and-take nature of Twitter and Facebook.
Who knew people were looking for a healthy remake of stodgy, old beef Wellington? DiSpirito certainly didn't - until fans told him.
DiSpirito is among the many professionals concerned that Am-ericans love their food shows and celebrity chefs, but don't regularly cook and invite people over for meals. He hopes his new book will address the participation problem by getting fans involved in the creative process.
"My feeling is that chefs have done a great job over the last 15 years of getting everyone all frothy at the mouth about the subject of food and wine and cooking and entertaining at home," he said. "I think the next level of this is getting them to actually participate."
No-Cream/No-Cry Penne A La Vodka Start to finish: 25 minutes Servings: 6 12 ounces whole-wheat penne 2ÃÂ½ cups low-fat, sugar-free marinara ÃÂ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes 7.1-ounce container 2 percent fat Greek-style yogurt 1 cup chopped fresh basil Salt and ground black pepper 6 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions, about 9 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large, nonstick sauté pan over medium, combine the marinara and red pepper flakes and bring to a simmer.
Cook, stirring occasionally with a heat-resistant rubber spatula, for about 5 minutes, or until it is reduced and slightly thickened.
Remove the marinara from the heat. In a small bowl, stir about ÃÂ½ cup of the marinara into the Greek yogurt until it is smooth to temper it, then whisk the yogurt mixture back into the marinara in the sauté pan.
Drain the pasta and add it to the pan, tossing to coat. Add the basil and season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Sprinkle with parmesan.