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Earlier this week, Kim O’Donnel hosted her final “What’s Cooking” chat over at washingtonpost.com, ending what has to be one of the longest-running online discussions anywhere. O’Donnel, a journalist and a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, had been hosting her home-cooking chat for more than 10 years, but the popular forum fell victim to the latest round of budget cuts at the paper.

While she’s not bitter about having the plug pulled, O’Donnel is perplexed as to why the Post, at a critical time for journalism when its very survival lies with the Web, would “start packing away unique online assets.” (What’s Cooking is not the only chat to go bye-bye at the Post, and Y&H is searching for an editor at the paper who can answer O’Donnel’s question, among others; I’ll update this item as answers come in.)

Even if O’Donnel doesn’t completely understand the paper’s rationale for cutting back on chats, she’s happy with the legacy of What’s Cooking. “A lot of people learned to cook in this forum,” she says. She politely declines to provide statistics on the number of weekly readers and chatters, though she did get about 100 questions a week.

She’s not bragging idly, either, if you judge by the comments from O’Donnel’s last chat on Tuesday. Wrote one cook from London: “No question, just a thanks for all the recipes, suggestion, and advice over the chat’s lifetime! I’m going to miss the chat(even though I will be following along in other formats, it’ll take me a little while to adjust, I’m sure…)”

And this comment from someone within the walls of the Post: “Hey Kimmy, I know you’re not here to take comments from your colleagues, but I want to thank you for opening up a whole new world of cooking for me. My kitchen — and diet — was forever changed from the moment we collaborated on the first What’s Cooking video back in 2001. I’m in awe of what you’ve accomplished over the last 10 years and look forward to the next decade of KOD. — Liz.”

O’Donnel’s culinary knowledge and gentle touch with readers will not be completely absent from the Post‘s site. She will continue writing her A Mighty Appetite blog, but she doesn’t think it serves the same role as the weekly chat. “The chat has much more of a personal feel [to readers], like their needs are getting met,” she says.

Which is one reason why O’Donnel is looking for a new host for the chat. She’s currently considering a few sites and hopes to resume chatting on one of them by early April. In the meantime, she’s created a Facebook page, What’s Cooking in Limbo, where she will take questions and keep her fans informed of her new whereabouts.

“I guess I could have done it for free [for the Post], but I’m a freelancer,” says O’Donnel, who is based in Seattle. “Time is money when you’re a freelancer.”

Photo courtesy of washingtonpost.com