01 September 2012

The Recipe

Not a recipe!  This is a menu for a special dinner that Jacques Pepin cooked at The Ritz-Carlton Chicago in 1997.  Jacques wrote and hand-colored each menu, believe it or not.  David cooked with him that night, and Jacques signed a menu to him (see lower left).  It hangs in our dining room.

Recently, David and I were discussing the fact that people always want “The Recipe” for something, like it holds the big, fancy secret to why something tastes so delicious.  For example: someone once asked David for his recipe for roasted turkey.  Really?  Roasted turkey?  Well, let me check my recipe book....oh, yes...here it is.  Right between “hard-boiled eggs” and “buttered toast”. 

Recipes are a bit overrated.  Do you remember that time when I mentioned how I just can’t follow recipes like some people follow them?  Since I am not a stickler for measuring, it is difficult to write recipes that can be prepared by others to achieve the intended result.  Take for example, my cherry clafoutis.  I never measure anything for the clafoutis when I make it, so in writing the recipe I used my best estimation for measurements.  Well, I decided to test it after I wrote about it, as kind of a gauge of my approximation skills.  It really was...a bit lackluster.  Not terribly impressive.  However, when I make it without a recipe and rely on my senses, I find that not only am I more emotionally involved in the food I am creating, but it usually tastes better. 

Jacques Pepin, one of the most talented and cool of all French chefs (and an artist, too!), said in a Chicago Tribune interview (2010),
 
For a chef, a recipe is really the reverse of how cooking actually happens.  It is a snapshot of what the chef did at that moment when he had to write something down.  However, if you are a chef, you must be capable of getting to the right result, one that registers in your mind.  Taste and add, taste and add, always adjusting to what you are trying to achieve. 
He added, 
...people want cooking to be scientific, so it can be reproduced, but they also want it to taste like it was prepared by a chef who is poetic, and that is the  result of knowledge, technique, and experience that may never be spoken or written down.

Some people think that cooking and great food are difficult and intimidating.  It will be if you don’t trust your senses, or expect to duplicate someone else’s success by following a written account (have you ever tried to put together a bookcase from Ikea using the written directions?). 

Oh, and cooking is difficult if you want to practice that nutty “molecular gastronomy”.  But I know you, and you absolutely do not want to do something so completely ridiculous.  Right?  I didn't think so. 

Use a recipe as a guide, but use your senses to get down to the nitty-gritty of cooking and make really good food.  Think, taste, smell, imagine, and watch when you are cooking.  Get involved in whatever you are preparing. As with most things in life, you just gotta trust yourself.  It’ll never be as good unless you put your own spin on it .  You will make mistakes, but you will learn from them; you will understand cooking and food better; and you will come out unscathed...most of the time.

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