Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

In Defense of Recipes: They're Guidelines Not Commandments, Silly!

In the great worldwide blogosphere this past week, I have found several high profile bloggers providing links to a curious article (click on this post's title for a link to that article) written by a former journalist for the London Independent (who is now plugging his new book) about cooking with recipes & how they doom us to failure. I will not name the author because I do not wish to promote his book. Said bloggers seem to agree with this writer/recent culinary school grad; and his new found disdain for the recipe as a means of providing useful information to the cook.

He states quite bluntly that recipes don't work & tells us his woeful tales of failure after failure while faithfully following the precise directions of every renown cookbook he owned and has now tossed in the trash.

Shame on him!!!

All I can say is that cooking was obviously not this man's passion nor was it a hobby he practiced with any frequency until he realized he could get a book deal out of it.

If it were he would have implicitly understood the relationship between the cook and the recipe. Recipes can provide a point of departure. A place to begin the odyssey. An organizational tool. A record of progress. A diary.

Cooking requires some intuition, the ability to improvise & adjust, a good memory, the understanding of technique and a whole lotta something more.

Recipes are a road map to a new place. They guide, they don't drive. They don't buy your car. They can't teach you to drive it, make sure you filled the tank, kicked the tires, had a recent tune-up, can read road signs or break for animals.

Because I am of the school of philosophy whose credo is "If it ain't broke don't fix it!", I will take an excerpt from the beautifully written and absolutely essential book, The Elements of Cooking by Michael Ruhlman, which should be required reading by anyone who professes an interest in the culinary arts or just plain cookery, baby.

His definition of the recipe is so eloquently described here that there is no improving on it &, by itself, offers a rebuttal to those who would claim that the recipe as such is a waste of time.

Here it is on page 200:
"Recipes are not assembly manuals. You can't use them the way you use instructions to put together your grill or rec room Ping-Pong table. Recipes are guides and suggestions for a process that is infinitely nuanced. Recipes are sheet music. A Bach cello suite can be performed at a beginner's level or given extraordinary interpretation by Yo-Yo Ma ----same notes/ingredients, vastly different outcomes.

How to use a good recipe: First read it and think about it. Cook it in your mind... try to know the outcome before you begin. Read a recipe all the way through...... Taking a few minutes to read a recipe, acting out each step in your mind as you do, will save you time & prevent errors. Measure out or prep all your ingredients before you begin..... If you're unsure about an instruction, use your common sense.....

How to perfect a good recipe: Do it over again. And again. Pay attention. Do it again. That's what chef's do. Often great cooking is simply the result of having done it over and over and over while paying attention. Great cooking is as much about sheer repetition as it is about natural skill or culinary knowledge."

Take that snarky pretenders!

There's a great saying in golf that is very un-P.C. but true nonetheless, "It ain't the arrows, it's the Indian!". It's true in golf and it's true in cooking. There are good recipes and there are bad recipes but it's up to the individual cook to make that proverbial pot of broth taste good.

By the way, how about Michael Ruhlman? The man is a genius with his economy of words on a subject that someone could pontificate on endlessly! He's written classic books with and about some of the greatest chefs of our time.

Buy his book if you care about cooking.

Click here to buy Michael Ruhlman's, The Elements of Cooking.

(OK, this is not the cover of Michael Ruhlman's book but I want you to treat it as though it were mandatory reading; hence, the photo-op of former hottie Chucky Heston as Moses handing down the commandments from atop Mt. Sinai)

No comments: