The French Onion Soup Test for Futurism.

I appear to have started blogging again. This is for my own self, really, and so I cannot claim it will make sense to anyone else. Still: onwards. 

Like a tribe lost to civilization, I’ve worked for myself for so long I’ve developed my own language, and it’s mostly gibberish to everyone else. Then I lose track of which vocab is which, and end up confusing everyone. For all the poor souls who have heard me talk about The French Onion Soup Test recently, I apologize. Turns out that’s only a thing in my head.

But it might be useful for you, so here we are. The French Onion Soup Test started as a test for cookbooks. Should you find yourself leafing through a cookbook, thinking of buying it, turn to the recipe for French Onion Soup, and see how long it quotes for the caramelizing of the onions. As Tom Scocca wrote in Slate back in 2012, seeding this in my mind,  most cookbooks are total bullshitters when it comes to this. They’ll quote ten minutes, when it’s actually more than an hour. 

One cannot help suspect that the French Onion Soup test means that the recipe either hasn’t been tried by the author, or that they feel the need to sell it to the reader in some curious way. Which is weird, because you realize just how wrong the recipe is the first time you cook it. (French Onion Soup done right, by the way, takes all damn day. It is worth it, but…yeah…)

Anyway this, it turns out, is a really useful test for technology, and especially for thought-stopping jargon-nouns. Substitute “cook the onions for five minutes until they’re brown and softened” with “by using the Blockchain” or “utilizing the power of deep learning”, or whatever other Futurist product you find yourself examining, and you can possibly see the technique in action. Ask yourself, is this scenario passing the French Onion Soup Test or not? If not, maybe the whole cookbook is wrong.

For the record, Thomas Keller’s recipe is tremendous.


French Onion Soup