Cyber-Cooks Celebrate Food Web Site the Kitchen Link Guides Culinary Enthusiasts to Recipes, Cookbook Reviews, and Chat Rooms

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Every day, Betsy Couch single-handedly pulls together a dinner of 25 to 30 dishes. From yellow-pepper soup to apricot-honey chicken to chocolate-truffle tart, the menu is enough to make even Martha Stewart blanch.

Ms. Couch is no caterer or restaurateur. Her daily meal is a virtual menu on the Internet called "Surf for Your Supper." It's part of Couch's creation, The Kitchen Link, a "guide to what's cooking on the Net." The address is:

Couch's master index to more than 7,000 food and cooking-related links on the Net is a cyber cook's dream-come-true. Newspaper food sections, food business news, cookbook reviews, message board, chat rooms, and recipes galore keep culinary enthusiasts coming back for second and third helpings with a simple click of the mouse. The Kitchen Link is run by Couch out of her Rochester, N.Y., home. It made its debut in March 1996 and now hosts 75,000 visitors from 85 countries every month, generating more than 1 million hits. What visitors all share, not surprisingly, is a passion for food, cooking, and recipes. Emphasis on recipes, chat groups Unlike other food sites, hers is a one-woman, independent operation not associated with a particular magazine or corporation. The Kitchen Link's emphasis is on links, recipes, and chats. Complete with a search engine, it is fast becoming known as the Yahoo of food. At a time when the Internet attracts new devotees by the minute, The Kitchen Link is a welcome site for online folks who just want to grab a bite, so to speak. They can check out the bulletin board, pull up a recipe for zucchini bread, or join a chat group to talk about anything from cookie recipes to make-ahead meals. It is emblematic of how the Internet facilitates online community, where people with common interests gather - in this case around a virtual kitchen table. Carol Burciaga has visited hundreds of food sites on the Internet. She says The Kitchen Link is her favorite for one reason: Betsy Couch. "She conscientiously maintains what has become an awesome group of links to cooking and recipe sites on the Web. There is no other site that is so well-maintained on a daily basis as is The Kitchen Link. Betsy actively participates in the message board, as well as the chat. Her standards are very high," Ms. Burciaga says, adding that it's like coming to visit a friend in her home and feeling welcome. Industry kudos for The Kitchen Link have come from Web Now magazine and Better Homes and Gardens. PBS's Discovery series "Life on the Internet" calls it "the most expansive site in the food business, the one that has everything...." Passion for food drives Web site For Couch, The Kitchen Link has been an eight-hour-a-day hobby in addition to her fulltime job in computer graphics at a pharmaceutical company. Her passion for food started early. Her father was in the restaurant business, and at home, life centered around food and the kitchen, not surprising for an Italian family, Couch says. When she was a teenager, "something clicked," she remembers, during a phone interview. "Any recipe I could get my hands on, I clipped or copied." She began a cookbook collection that continued to grow after she got married. Later, she started several cookbook-writing projects. Meanwhile, Couch and her husband, Bob (affectionately referred to as Bobbio - rhymes with Fabio - by Couch's online friends), fell in love with computers "early on." One day, about five years ago, Couch was surfing around on the Net and found that the cooking sites seemed repetitive. It was then that she decided to start The Kitchen Link. "I was just consumed - up all hours of the night. I created it and then shelved it," she says, explaining: "I had to consider the level of commitment I knew I had to give it." Daily, weekly, monthly updates as well as fixing links, adding links, creating more features, and moderating chats take many hours each day. …


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