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I don't think Michael Ruhlman is being rational

What is up with Michael Kuhlman's idea that cooking comes to parts? Is there no love, no heart no this is my scone, that is yours, and all from the same recipe? I am a professional. I cook in NYC, in Italy and in France for a living and I'm all about 1 part this and 2 parts that, but the other part, the part that is only me or only you, is critical. How do you feel about this?

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    1. re: linguafood


      here is the article above. Tell me what you have to think.

      1. re: linguafood

        Michael Ruhlman... an established author of all things food. Collaborated with Eric Ripert and Thomas Keller among others.

        It's not "parts".. it's ratios. And it's very interesting. Learning the basic chemistry behind cooking will free you to better experiment and bring the "you" into things.

          1. re: Jennalynn

            I am going out on a limb here, but having been in the cooking ranks for a long, long time, (with no name to speak of except that it's my job) I don't think it matters if you are Thomas Keller or any other fabulous chef--it doesn't mean that you are going to know how to get people to cook. I would take on the challenge, peon that I am, any day. fayefood.com

            1. re: fayehess

              He doesn't claim to get people to cook. It's just a tool to get you to look at cooking in another way.

              "We have been trained in America to believe that we can’t cook unless we have a recipe in hand. I am not saying recipes are bad or wrong—I use them all the time; there are plenty of recipes in the new book—but when we rely completely on recipes, we cooks do ourselves a grave disservice. We remain chained to the ground, we remain dependent on our chains. When you are dependent on recipes, you are a factory worker on the assembly line; when you possess ratios and basic technique, you own the company."

          2. I don't think it implies heartless cooking per se, and I think it makes a lot of things easier for beginning cooks. Emphasis on beginning.

            1. I like his effort to demystify cooking and baking. I have friends who still *only* cook from recipes, and they have been cooking for several years.

              Me? After baking poorly for a few years, I finally have accepted that you have to follow a reliable recipe (or at least understand the reliable ratio inherent therein) before improvising. It helps to have the time and energy to read, practice, and teach yourself the basics.

              Bottom line: I don't see how this approach hurts anyone.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ChristinaMason

                Most baking requires a recipe or at least a good knowledge of the ratios Michael is talking about. If you are unruly in baking you may get something yummy and interesting, but most of the time you will get a cake that won't rise , unflaky pie crust, or a hard cookies when you wanted chewy ones.

              2. What a thoughtful and though-provoking post. Haven’t seen the book, only read the reviews. Decided it didn’t interest me, but I hadn’t thought through just why that was true.

                Playing devil’s advocate, I guess that for those of us who have far less experience than you, keeping those proportions in mind might make it easier to shop. Although I consider myself a fairly experienced home cook, I go to the farmer’s market, buy whatever looks great, and then go home and try to figure out what to do with it. And that, more often than not, entails another trip to the market to pick up whatever—shallots, fresh sage, locally out-of-season carrots. Intellectually I can see how the proportion concept might at least help you shop more efficiently.

                As I say, I haven’t seen the book. But does he not encourage the reader to bring some love, some heart to those proportions? Does he not say somewhere that these are just guidelines and encourage the reader to use them as a base and develop from there?

                Just yakking here. But you’ve given me the impetus to head to a bookstore and take a good look.

                7 Replies
                1. re: JoanN

                  Michael Ruhlman is my favorite food writer. He's all about loving food and what makes food culture really interesting. NOT celebrity-driven -- tho he does pay homage to those personalities whose love and mastery of food have made them famous and created the culture of American food that produced (unfortunately) the concept of food celebrity. His book "The Soul of a Chef" begins with what awoke people like Thomas Keller to what the *possibilities* of food were when they grew up in the supermarket-frozen-food-aisle world of American cooking in the 60s and 70s.

                  His book "Ratios" is about mastering the basics of food prep that liberate the cook from recipes and enables us to express our own personality and flair within the framework of reliable relationships. His work is all about passion for excellence and creativity. It is NOT about being precious with food. Or slavish. Or only understanding food in "parts".

                  I think the original poster truly misunderstands Ruhlman. Ruhlman is a breath of fresh air and a complete resource for what's happening with food in America -- from great every day dining to the molecular gastromony of Greg Aschatz and everything in between. He and Thomas Keller are my food heroes. Not because I ever expect to master what they have but because they make the possibilities real for real cooks.

                  1. re: rainey

                    i also love ruhlman and the photographs his wife posts on their blog are breathtaking.he is wonderfully passionate about food. would keller co-author with an automaton?

                    the op hasn't read the book and clearly hasn't encountered any of his work, because the misunderstanding is obvious. by presenting ratios he helps people understand that a pudding is a custard is a quiche -- just tweak it a different way for a different end result. this method offers a solid foundation as a springboard, not a cage.

                    too many home cooks are afraid. learning this way should be liberating for them.

                    i major heart ruhlman.

                    finally to the op: may i politely suggest reading something before you criticize it? starting off by not even getting his name right doesn't exactly bolster your argument.

                    1. re: rainey

                      "Greg Aschatz" ???


                      grant achatz, maybe you mean?

                      1. re: soupkitten

                        Yes, thank you. I got him confused with Greg Aschatz whose a good friend of MIchael Kuhlman.

                        1. re: rainey

                          Ha Ha, good save.

                          Hope Santa brings you everything you want!

                    2. re: JoanN

                      When you cook as a professional you almost always cook in terms of ratios (I say parts because cooks typically use for example, 1 part this to 3 parts that for a recipe rather than the standard measurements. When I speak of parts, I speak of ratios. I do have to take a better look as well at the book. But I have to say this: my whole theory on inspiring people to cook is to speak to their heart. I truly believe that his book will speak to people who already cook. If you hand someone a list of ingredients and a whole lot of information about how they relate, they may read the list with interest, be impressed that there are big names attached, put down the list, get in the car and go for take out. fayefood.com

                    3. And Ratio is now an iPhone app. $4.99 and you have all of the ratios in your pocket.

                      And I admire Michael Ruhlman. His enthusiasm for well-prepared food, appreciated for the intent of the food, is refreshing.

                      1. I don't care how much "only me or only you" goes into a loaf of bread, you need to use about 5 parts flour to about 3 parts of water. A little wetter or drier and you can get different results that are still bread. 2 parts flour to 1 part water, though, and you've got crepe batter.

                        The idea isn't to rob cooks of individuality, it's to give them the tools they need to express that individuality. Professional bakers have known forever that ratios are the building blocks of creative recipes. Establishing basic ratios frees the home cook from following a cookbook and provides a basis for experimentation and self-expression.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          I fully understand the importance of ratios. I started my career in pastry. I also agree that it can be liberating to understand the importance of ratio, and most certainly the importance of weighing things out when it comes to baking. But let's take a muffin or a bread. Yes, there is a loaf of bread that is pretty darn decent from using 5 parts flour and 3 parts water--what I have never liked is the industry standard--when you walk into certain hotels or restaurants, you are going to get a loaf of bread or a muffin that is barely distinguishable from any another hotel or restaurant. Yes there are basic rules that are important to follow, but just as important is the rule that you have to make the leap to find your own tastes as a cook--to depend on your tongue and experience to tell you what a dish needs. To not get locked into the ratio when your favorite muffin the whole wide world may have nothing to do with the ratio you were given. Like art. Yes the human body has certain proportions and it can be critical to study them in a figure class, but (for example) Picasso would not be Picasso if he did not ultimately throw those proportions to the curb. fayefood.com

                          1. re: fayehess

                            Picasso didn't throw proportions to the curb. He dissected form and color and pushed them in directions that no one had before, but his representations still bore some resemblance to what they represented. That is true in large part because he mastered proportion before he started experimenting.

                            When every loaf of bread you encounter tastes the same, the problem isn't that the bakers are using the same ratio, it's that they're using the same recipe. A 60% dough can be made with or without a poolish, with or without salt, with or without enrichments such as eggs or milk, etc. It can be studded with any of a thousand ingredients from seeds to olives to chunks of fruit. It can contain any of a variety of flours from whole wheat to rye to corn. It can be raised quickly or slowly, have a crumb that's dense or light, a texture that's fine or coarse, and a crust that's crunchy or delicate. And it can even use ratios of flour and water that diverge somewhat (typically upward) from the 5:3 average. But a loaf that has "nothing to do with the ratio you were given" won't be very good. And if it diverges too far from that ratio, it won't even be bread.

                            1. re: fayehess

                              but before he could sucessfully "throw them to the curb" he had to know them intimately.

                              you have to set up a beat before you break it

                              1. re: fayehess

                                Who said anything about being "locked in"?

                                1. re: fayehess

                                  Andre Soltner has said that cooking is not an art it's a craft and I agree with him.

                                  1. re: KTinNYC

                                    I've always said cooking is a craft that is 60% science and 40% art.

                                    1. re: RetiredChef

                                      I wholeheartedly agree with both of you. I am a home chef and my husband and his brothers are always in amazement of how I can look through my panty/cupboards and just make something up without a recipe or a well thougth out plan of action. What they do not realize, is all the scientific thought and practice in cooking. As long as I follow the rules set out I can use different ingreadients and the outcome is still positive.

                                    2. re: KTinNYC

                                      I agree with the sentiment of that statement, but the same sentiment could be applied to most of the arts. Creation always comes down to basic formulas, with a little room between the lines to play around. Some in the arts try to break that mold, and most people feel about those the way they would about a loaf of bread that completely disregards the formulas.

                                2. I’ve been teaching cooking classes at my restaurant for over 20 years. Ratio’s are one of the key components that I drive into home cooks since most of them do not understand this. More people over the years have commented how nice it was to know the ratios and how it liberated them from using recipes and allowed them be come creative and experiment on their own.

                                  One pertinent comment was from a middle age woman who had used recipes all of her life but didn’t understand how to alter them, she told me that once she got the ratio concept it was like a magician has shown her the secret to the trick. She finally got it, and put down the cookbooks and started creating some of her own master recipes.

                                  Ratios in these cases actually make you more creative and embolden you to try new things.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: RetiredChef

                                    I agree. I just don't want people to get stuck there. fayefood.com

                                    1. re: fayehess

                                      You seem to be stuck with this only this one kind of retort regarding ratios... "Don't get stuck there" "Don't get locked in".

                                      I fail to see where Michael Ruhlman or his book suggest either.

                                      1. re: fayehess

                                        You've got this unfounded notion that using ratios will discourage individualized cooking, because people who are not accomplished cooks will not deviate from the ratios. While this might apply to some people, you're completely missing the bigger picture.

                                        Novice cooks are MUCH more likely to be slaves to a recipe than they would be slaves to a ratio. Rulhman is trying to move a step further towards creativity, not away from it, by illustrating that for many foods, you only NEED to know a few basic elements, and you can experiment with everything else.

                                          1. re: sbp

                                            Why can't I write like sbp?

                                            Very well put.

                                            1. re: sbp

                                              Completely agree. I often look for recipes that approximate what I am wanting to make just to get the ratio, and then I add whatever I like. I still definitely NEED my basic elements to experiment.

                                        1. Cooking does come down to parts. If this is a sticking point, is it safe to assume that your recipes contain no measures?

                                          Bottom line; you will not have a loaf of bread (or a vinaigrette, pate or pie crust) to inject the "You" into if you don't first understand what proportions of A to B to C are necessary to get to that starting point. Cooking is about key principals and any cook worth his or her salt must first get those down before they get creative. It doesn't matter much "You" is wedged into your cooking, you can't make a muffin out of pancake batter.

                                          There is a very entertaining article in Slate about this. Have a read and tell me if you still feel that the concept is constrictive.


                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Ernie Diamond

                                            I will. I think it's great that we all have such strong feelings about this. (You can make a (beautiful) muffin from a pancake batter) And breads from country to country vary according to tradition. Vinaigrette standard is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. I don't like this proportion. I always add more acid. I know I'm sticking on this like glue, and I am going to read the article.

                                          2. I think that Michael Ruhlman is one of the most intelligent, passionate and rational voices on food today. I've loved everything that I've read by him, and always recommend his books to others. I've also learned a great deal from his teaching.

                                            His book Ratio attempts to help the home cook to understand the basic foundations of well-constructed dishes so that the cook can then make the dish his or her own. Mastering anything requires some structure and discipline in order to allow for improvisation and creativity. Ruhlman has a great respect for food and cooking, and fully encourages people to put their heart and creativity into their food.

                                            I guess I'm confused by your post because I'm not sure where your idea comes from that he believes that cooking can be reduced to a formula. I don't hear him saying that at all...quite the opposite, really.

                                            1. About ten(?) years ago, Mike Ruhlman attended the CIA for the purpose of writing a book on the experience of the students there. While the administration, his instructors and his fellow students were aware of his status, he did not simply observe; he participated in the process (with the exception of externships) exactly as his classmates, from learning to make basic sauces in the beginning, to working the lines (and the front of the house) in the restaurants there at the end of the process. His very successful book was called The Making of a Chef.

                                              In interviewing on of the supervisory chefs there who had been trained in Europe, he found that the chef had compiled a list of all the ratios that he had learned over the years that worked best in various. situations. (I wish I could be more specific but I recently loaned my copy to a young woman who owns a butcher shop and market nearby, and who recenty graduated from culinary school here in CT). In any case, anyone who enjoys food, especially anyone who, like myself, who is not professionally trained, should pick up a copy in paperback. It's a great, informative read.

                                              And while I've always liked Ruhlman (Bourdain's buddy after all), I did have to lift an eyebrow when I heard about him publishing a book about ratios after reading his experience having been given thtis list of ratios by that CIA chef/professor so many years ago.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: junescook

                                                "I did have to lift an eyebrow when I heard about him publishing a book about ratios after reading his experience having been given thtis list of ratios by that CIA chef/professor so many years ago."

                                                If only original ideas and concepts were allowed to be published there would be *a lot* fewer books on the shelves. Just because the CIA taught Ruhlman about the concept of ratios doesn't mean he should write a book about the topic. It's an interesting topic that is under utilized so he took the idea and ran with it.

                                                1. re: junescook

                                                  my understanding is the chef happily gave the ratios to ruhlman as a learning tool. it's not exactly intellectual property. it's cooking chemistry.

                                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                    And Ruhlman recounts the story of receiving the ratios in detail in the intro, so proper credits are given.

                                                    1. re: bear

                                                      Thank you, bear. I'm certainly glad and not at all surprised to hear that.

                                                      I did recall that it was not a part of the regular curriculum, nor was this one of his own chef/instructors. It is, indeed, simply a matter of attribution. But having just finished reading his CIA book and then reading reviews of the new book (which I have not seen) that had intimated that Ruhlman had invented this new system of cooking ratios that had surprised me.

                                                2. Quote from Michael Ruhlman. "My favorite ratio is the quick-bread/muffin ratios because you can do so many things with them. It’s two parts liquid, two parts flour, one part egg, and then the rest is up to you"

                                                  The heart and soul come in "the rest is up to you". You don't have to be a scientist to cook but cooking involves science and ratios of certain ingredients are keys to success. Actually his book Ratios would be a good reference book along with Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. I like the science part of cooking but put a lot of my heart, love and soul in what I cook. I don't follow or use recipes per se but I do like to look at them to find the basic common ingredients and ratios. Ratios? well I'll be.

                                                  1. I'm giving this book to my SIL: who prides herself on her passion for food. She loves to cook, but most of the time, the results are just off. If she paid more attention to the actual chemistry and less to her love-affair with chives/saffron/pink peppercorns, eatijng at her table would be more of a pleasure and less of an ordeal.
                                                    Love and heart take second place to taste, I think.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                      1. re: Ideefixed

                                                        trying to make squid ink foam before she learns to scramble an egg?

                                                        1. re: Ideefixed

                                                          This is not my point. Love and heart and TASTE. I fear that if people read that it is all based on ratio, then when the whole thing is blah or not right because of the weather or ingredients or a taste that is different than what the cook is looking for, then what? That becomes a matter of experience, of what makes something the most "tomato" that it could be, or just a little more gentle of a tomato, and infused with butter, because it's going over a delicate fish. Does this make more sense? fayefood.com There is a method to my madness

                                                        2. I prefer English editions of cookbooks when I can get them as they specify weights, which are much more consistent than volumes or vague descriptions such as "two medium onions."