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What's a recipe, really?

(post, Kim Carlson)


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A few weeks ago in the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik wrote about cookbooks and recipes. The piece was fun to read, with lots of rich observations, and I especially appreciated this:

bq."We say, 'What's the recipe?' when we mean 'How do you do it?' And though we want the answer to be 'Like this!' the honest answer is 'Be me!' 'What's the recipe?' you ask the weary pro chef, and he gives you a weary-pro-chef look, since the recipe is the totality of the activity, the real work. The recipe is to spend your life cooking."

Some people — lucky for them — are born with good food sense; like our friend [/recipes/collections/Contributors/Meera+S.T.+Vargo Meera], they are great cooks even as kids. 

Others of us — we get to grow into it. The only way to become the cooks we want to become is to practice, practice, practice.

Look, if you give a script to seven directors, you're going to get seven different plays. Even if the stage directions are spelled out in the most minute detail, the results will differ. Sure, all the plays are called the same thing, but each bears the stamp of each director. To an extent, the same goes with a score of music or an architectural blueprint.

And if you give the same recipe to seven cooks, you will get seven different results. Maybe only slightly different, but different, nonetheless.

As cooks, we need not only to taste, smell, and see the food, but we need to hear it and to feel it — and that can't easily be described — if ever it can. Our knowledge needs to be more than how to measure, how to chop, how to sauté. (And yet, those things cannot be underestimated.)

If I were to take that view to its extreme, then I would have to suggest that cookbooks are a waste of time, but I certainly don't believe that!

I guess what I am suggesting is that alongside the message for "this is quick," or "this is easy," or "this is how you do this," more cookbooks should emphasize "practice, practice, practice."