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Restaurant-based cookbooks - do the recipes allow faithful duplication?

I bought a Korean cookbook a few years ago - it was suppose to be a compilation of signature recipes from LA restaurants famous for a particular dish. I tried 2 of the recipes and they were awful! Some of the recipes I didn't even bother attempting- a little further research showed they had left out ingredients essential to the dish. It made me wonder if the restaurants were loathe to actually give out their famous recipes? In which case, why bother with a cookbook?

So now I have the momofuku cookbook and again, I am slightly suspicious at the simplicity of some of the recipes. When I consider how delicious their pork buns are, I find it hard to believe the pork belly is only cooked with sugar and salt and that the sauce is nothing more than hoisin sauce. Still, I'm willing to give the cookbook a try and am making their famous bo ssam for my husband today as a V-day gift. It's already in the oven, roasting away.. fingers crossed!

I normally don't buy restaurant-based cookbooks so for those of you who cook from restaurant-based cookbooks, how did the recipes fare? Did the cookbook version allow you to replicate the dish you ate at the restaurant? Or did it turn out to be a completely different dish?

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  1. it's a crap shoot, but more often than not, what you see in the cookbook isn't the exact recipe prepared at the restaurant. to be perfectly honest, it pisses me off, which is why i now buy these books only if i'm interested in the geeral content, not because i want to be able to recreate a particular dish at home.

    perfect example - i bought a cookbook this past year that was released by a very popular bakery (not because i wanted to recreate their items, but for quite the opposite reason - i've sampled many of their menu items and thought they were terrible, so i was curious to see what they were actually doing that resulted in such unimpressive product). anyway, some of the recipes were already floating around on the web, and after reading some comments by people who had tried them and discovered that they just weren't turning out right, i wanted to see them rest of them for myself. when i compared the ingredients in the recipes to the ingredients listed for the corresponding items in the bakery, i found a lot of discrepancies.

    1. I'd expect there is some simplification of recipes to suit a home cooking situation, eg. most home cooks wouldn't want to make a sauce made from scratch if it takes hours and lots of prep to make. If a pre-made sauce is relatively close I can see them substituting it in the cookbook.

      1. It definitely depends on the chef. I've had good luck with all of Thomas Keller's books (based on comparison to my meal at The French Laundry and on the ability to make delicious food that looks as great as the pictures). I have also encountered recipes that are laughable when compared to the pictures of the dishes in other books (Alfred Portales and Marcus Samuelsson come to mind as some of the worst offenders). It is indeed a crap shoot, as ghg pointed out. You sort of have to find chefs that you trust not to dumb things down too much for you, and keep going back to them for more great recipes.

        I haven't played with my Momofuku cookbook yet... although I have heard that some things (such as the steamed buns that he stuffs with pork belly) aren't up to snuff. Let us know how you V-day dish turned out... =)

        1. I have thumbed through Thomas Keller's cookbooks and they appear more "authentic" to me because the receipes appear to be long and involved - what I would expect from a 3 star michelin restaurant. I just wouldn't believe it if a Keller recipe said to "Mix XYZ and pop in oven for 2 hours." Sadly, I don't have enough time to cook like he does so have not bought his cookbooks.

          Ok the bo ssam came out delicious except for the crust. First off, the recipe asks for way too much sugar+salt rub, I barely used half and even then, the crust was much too salty. I ended up cutting it away. Also it doesn't require the additional sugar crust glaze at the end - that just caused a lot of smoke in my oven. While the inside meat was delicious, it doesn't taste like what you get at momofuku, and even though I used a slightly smaller amount of pork but still cooked it for the full 6hrs, I feel I could have cooked it even longer to make it even more tender.

          The next recipe I will try is the fried chicken esp. if others have tried the steamed buns and they weren't up to snuff -again, why modify recipes so people can't recreate the dish? Nowadays, there isn't much that the amateur home chef can't buy if they had the space and budget.

          5 Replies
          1. re: SeoulQueen

            is these something to be said about the quality of the base protein as well? I don't know what pork you used but there's a very distinct difference between quality fed pork , supermarket pork and then Kurobota pork.

            1. re: jecolicious

              I use Crisfield's - excellent butcher in Rye, NY that is highly rated by fellow chowhounders. I rang them up beforehand and they got me a nice Berkshire pork. It's rare now to find a proper butcher - when I went to get the meat, the butcher sharpened his knives before trimming it for me. Yay!

            2. re: SeoulQueen

              Seoul Queen: did you see this thread about Momofuku steamed buns:

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/668988

              apparently they don't make their buns (if memory serves). There is another thread too about either the pork buns or momofuku food but I can't find it . . . maybe there's a reference to it in this one.

              1. re: cinnamon girl

                Thanks for the thread - hadn't read it before. Surprised to read how different the pork bun recipe is in the cookbook vs what he did for Martha Stewart. I'm glad to know the bun recipe doesn't work so I won't waste my time trying to make it, but that again raises the question of why tthen did they include it in the first place? If they outsource their buns, they should just say so and point people in the right direction, ie "We outsource our buns, you too can buy them pre-made in the frozen food aisle of Chinese grocers."

                1. re: SeoulQueen

                  Yes it's lame. There is also another thread on Chow on this topic and it might be explained there. Pressured by publisher or someone. I vaguely remember reading an explanation but it must not have made much of an impression!

            3. books created by restaurant chefs are not meant for "amateur" cooks since there are a lot of details left out. (for example, does the book need to say to pre-heat the oven before putting the cake in ?), also restaurants have different cooking instruments (oven, ... )

              I use them as inspiration and not as a guide.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Maximilien

                My complaint is more often with authors dumbing things down or giving ridiculous instructions than with them leaving out (intuitively obvious) details that a skilled cook would know.

                1. re: Maximilien

                  "books created by restaurant chefs are not meant for "amateur" cooks since there are a lot of details left out. (for example, does the book need to say to pre-heat the oven before putting the cake in ?), also restaurants have different cooking instruments (oven, ... )"

                  I don't get your point. Posters above seem to be saying that essential ingredients are being left out, not that obvious things like preheating your oven or turning the handle on your pepper mill to get pepper out are left unsaid. Amateur or not, if a chef is going to say: this is the xyz from restaurant a, in my opinion, it should actually contain all of the ingredients and all of the necessary steps, to making xyz.

                  1. re: StheJ

                    Agree. If these books are not for "amateurs" why are they being marketed as such? Most of them are shameless cash grabs. The only thing that can redeem them is when they: are loaded with information on methods, explain why certain things are done, include a bit of food science, include something about the origins and regionality of the dish (if relevant), or barring that the inspiration for the dish. Big glossy pictures of bowls of lemons are useless and after you've been buying food writing for a number of years, not appreciated. Especially when they take up precious space on the shelf. Including a dish, but leaving out the one thing that makes it special b/c it's too complicated or time-consuming to write it out, also is not appreciated.