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not sharing recipes: ....huh? [moved from General Chowhounding Topics]

Every once in a while, I come across someone who refuses to share a requested recipe.

Does this ever happen to you? (ed): How do you respond to this awkward situation?

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  1. There was a discussion that veered onto this topic on the homecooking board sometime this past winter or spring. I'm sorry I couldn't locate it for you. I've encountered this only once, with my stepmother's family, and consider it odd. (I think they like to "keep recipes in the family," but have also heard them argue between themselves over recipes. Admittedly, I'm now part of the family, but not, in a way, too, or at least, that's what I took from this experience!)

    In my experience living in NC, KS, KY, and TX, (and spending many summers in AR, too) I don't recall ever encountering someone who didn't eagerly share their recipes. Maybe I've just forgotten those disapponted requests...

    4 Replies
    1. re: amyzan

      Is this the thread you referred to amyzan?

      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/390156

      I don't have a problem sharing a recipe, as long as I feel it is mine to share. I have a few recipes that were passed on to me by others whom I know to be hesitant to share recipes in general, or who used the recipe in a business. In those cases, I would not feel comfortable sharing the recipe.

      1. re: debbiel

        Yep, that's it, and it was topical rather than tangential after all. Bad memory on my part.

      2. re: amyzan

        I read that discussion, and I had to respond. I am a professional pastry chef, and I have always felt that recipes are for sharing. I never, ever refused to give a customer a recipe, and was usually only too thrilled to share not only the recipe but the particulars of method, possible rookie pitfalls, tricks I had discovered and even supply sources. I once even gave a customer a vanilla bean to take home and use for herself, since the local shop that sold them was closed and she wanted one for use that night. I have always maintained that the thing that makes my pastries good is the little particulars of personal weirdness that I cast over the food--the fetishistic fervor with which I core apples, having tasted too many tartes Tatin ruined by apple core fragments, for example, or the liberal (and unmeasured) hand I use with vanilla. I have seen this in action, actually, when I train an assistant, and expect him to be able to follow a recipe without supervision, then come back and find he's made a markedly different product. And that is with a career cook, mind you, not a layman. What I did find surprising in myself was the reaction I had after being fired from a job last year under what I considered to be unfair circumstances. Initially I tried to help my former employers fill my shoes, but when they tacitly withheld my final paycheck until I gave them my recipes, I felt betrayed (they were my own recipes, developed, for the most part, long before I worked for this restaurant) and was quite tempted to alter the ingredients slightly. I must admit I did omit the vanilla from a few of them!

        Then there was another circumstance from a few years back. I had some black bananas and my employers had offered banana bread to a party of 75 red-hatted, purple-dressed ladies (you know who I mean, right?) and I had to make many loaves of it for a set brunch. I never really loved banana bread, and had never made it, so over coffee one morning I asked my oldest friend for a banana bread recipe, mostly to flatter her, since I knew she had a recipe. She gave it to me, and it didn't seem great to me. I looked in a few cookbooks and cobbled together a better recipe that ended up becoming an overnight success and we put it on the menu. My friend heard about it and kind of claimed kudos for it, so I fudged and told her I had slightly altered her recipe by replacing the oil with melted butter, tossing in some vanilla and toasted walnuts, all the time suggesting that these were natural changes that she herself would have effected had she happened to have butter on hand, etc. Actually, the recipe bore no relationship to hers whatsoever, but I didn't want to hurt her feelings.

        In the end, I think that the only proper thing to do is to share recipes with unstinting generosity. There is no "secret" to my desserts that would in any way diminish my work were I to disclose it. So I share recipes with the same liberal left hand I use to pour vanilla.

        1. re: mancina

          It souds like you're saying you might as well share because other people aren't going to make it as well as you anyway. I agree to an extent, but of course the downside is somebody taking your recipe, making it badly for their friends, bragging that its your recipe - I got this straight from the pastry chef at Bob's!!, then their friends think Bob's has lousy desserts.

        1. re: lulubelle

          I have a good friend who runs a bed and breakfast....she is an accomplished cook who has been asked many times for her recipes. Her take on it is to give the recipe that a guest would ask for, but only in exchange for one back from the guest. I think that is a great idea

        2. Depends on if they are bigger,and meaner than me....

          1. I am a person who does not always share recipes because I don't always follow recipes. I cook by taste feel and sight. People think I'm being secretive but I'm just not able to translate what I do into a recipe. If I have followed a specific recipe I will share that. Q

            5 Replies
            1. re: vashti

              Very true, and when I do "follow" a recipe, someone else who has a different touch and feel, will produce a different end product and wonder why

              1. re: nyfoodjoe

                but can't that argument follow for all recipes, though? cookbooks? I think anyone willing to ask for a recipe is willing to work with it till they're happy with it.

                I'd certainly understand if it was intellectual property worth defending, or "Sorry but I cook by feel, not by measurement."

                But my puzzlement is the person who shares food at a gathering, but flatly refuses to share the recipe, stating "I don't share my recipes." That's the part I don't get. I'd be happy enough for a list of ingredients to play with, or the explanation of a crucial technique. I'll take your suggestion and offer one in exchange to open negotiations!

                1. re: toodie jane

                  I wonder if this person just didn't know how to diplomatically say "no." Saying "I don't share my recipes" seems a little blunt. Or maybe that's how it was done in her family. I don't share some things because my mom told me not to share them and with good reason ... one is a camera and the other is my car. The one time I decided it wouldn't hurt to let a friend borry my camera, she broke it. It was devastating when you're 14 with no money, and no, she didn't buy me a replacement. My husband is very willing to share his cars; I wouldn't even let HIM drive it when we were dating!

              2. re: vashti

                I am 100% in agreement with this position. I also tend to cook by instinct, taste, feel, and visuals. When I am finished, I can tell you what went into it, but I can rarely give you an accurate idea of quantities. Most people are satisfied with an ingredient list and my statement that they have to "play with the finished product" in order to get a result that they like.

                1. re: vashti

                  I am more than happy to give someone a photocopy of a recipe I have used that I have written down (and have done so on so many occassions, I can usually find a copy of any recipe in my "sent" box)

                  Often though, my recipes (or at least the quantities) are stored in my head and, unless I feel like the person asking for it really wants it and will use it, I really can't be bothered working it all out and writing it down. Lazy, I know, but sometimes I feel people ask for recipes as a compliment but they don't actually intend on using them.

                  In this instance I often enthusiastically offer to tell someone the details so that they can write it down. This usually results in "oh, I will call you at some stage" which never eventuates :)

                2. The idea of not sharing a recipe with a friend or family member is very strange to me. For one thing, unless you've created a recipe yourself, how can you trace the true origin of it and therefore, how can you claim ownership over it? I'm flattered when someone enjoys something I've made enough that they'd like to recreate it and share it with their friends/family.

                  This happened to my mom once in a somewhat extreme version of how these situations can play out. Her longtime friend left teaching to open up a bakery. For her carrot cake, she used my mother's recipe. Actually, a recipe that my mother got from my grandmother who got it from her best friend. So, my mom's friend named it after my mom, and I think my mom was perfectly happy for her to use it and flattered that it was named after her. Now, one of the other cakes that this friend ended up making in her bakery was a delicious apple cake. My mom asked her for the recipe and she refused to give it to her! Given the circumstances, I thought this was completely rude and unacceptable. It's not as though my mom was going to open up a competing bakery--she just wanted it for her own personal use at home. She wouldn't have given it out to anyone else or revealed the source. And this was in the D.C. area, so it's not as though this was in some small town where my mom having the recipe would impact this woman's business. It was just pure paranoid selfishness on the part of the "friend." My mom was pretty irritated about it, on principle, but I think she just let it go. The friendship faded over time anyway and my parents now live in another state. I think my mother still talks to her from time to time. Always a sore point though.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: sarahvagaca

                    No wonder this "friendship" faded -- the bakery owner was an evil piece of work! If I were your mother, I wouldn't even talk to this person. Friends share recipes, always. If you're a professional chef, there's a different set of rules, but in the situation you describe, your mother's acquaintance was way off-base. I have a friend who's a caterer, and she generously shares her recipes with me. We have an agreement, though, that I will not share them, so I don't prepare them for company.