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May 19, 2010 10:12 AM

There is no joy in Mudville ... or what's the point of only cooking-by-recipe?

Serious question, no bashing or flaming intended.

But I want to know what the joy, or enjoyment, is in cooking by simply following a recipe?

In slavishly following a recipe, what have you accomplished in terms of culinary achievement?

Sure, you've made a dish, but this is like creating a painting of a bowl of fruit by using tracing paper laid over a picture of an apple, banana, and orange. Are you an artist? Or somebody who can simply trace very well?

So, I ask, for those that cook-by-recipes only, what's the point in the exercise?

Does it not just create false security -- if not bravado -- in your skills as a cook?

Do you ever wonder if you'd be able to cook sans cookbook or recipe?

Let me ask perhaps a more poignant question ... do you even want to cook without a recipe?

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  1. When I first started to cook, I followed recipes to the letter. I did this for a year or two. This taught me technique and gave me a useful base of knowledge for pairings. The transition, the searching out of a half-dozen recipes so that I could 'create' my own, came later (and was much more exciting), and still later came the pantry and fridge sweep, where I made a dish from what I had on hand. I taught myself to cook, using my cookbooks. That was all I had in the way of a teacher.

    But I still, occasionally, follow a recipe to the letter. I do this for several reasons: I may be unfamiliar with the typr of cuisine, or I might have a solid trust in the chef who created the recipe, or I am curious enough about the recipe to put my own preferences aside.

    I plan on making the Hazan simple tomato sauce this week simply because so many chowhounds have raved about it over the years, and because I am curious about how so few ingrediants add up to a sauce that gets those kinds of reviews. If I alter it, I might as well just go ahead and make my own marinara.

    And even an 'artist' who traces the fruit has to properly shade it in. One can learn this by studying the work of others.

    1. Oooh, I love bashing ... I mean discussion. Seriously though, I've wondered about this same thing. I always watch the Food Network, where they bash cooks that don't exhibit enough creativity. In my mind, the point of cooking (and source of enjoyment) is being able to cook a dish masterfully. And that's it. There's no shame in following a recipe.

      Then again, it's nice to be able to walk through a farmers market and pick out a selection of ingredients that you can put together without a recipe. BUT, the goal is putting some delicious on the table, not being able to pat myself on the back as an artist. I would say that if a person doesn't get much satisfaction out of following a recipe, then go for the artistic/winging-it style of cooking.

      In terms of culinary achievement, I can't think of anyone that's achieved more than the prototypical Italian grandmother. Dang it, that old lady can cook up some pasta. But then of course, she's doing the same thing that every other old Italian grandmother does -- has she achieved something noteworthy? I think so. In a time when most people get their meals out of a box or a drive-through, I think we can allow following recipes.

      1. Ok, I'll bite (lol) ipse. #1 for me is being able to recreate a dish that I loved at a restaurant, like the short ribs or parmesan pudding at Lucques. I may not be in the mood for the drive, but want the food and can get a 95% match by doing it at home. No, I'm probably not an "artist", but then again there aren't that many Suzanne's either.
        As for the cooking w/o a recipe or cookbook, I don't know any decent home cook that doesn't change around a recipe to suit their own tastes to start with, not "slavishly" following anything. Fortunately, I've been cooking long enough now that I can hit the gro and come up with something pretty tasty just by looking around at what's seasonal/fresh
        and make it up as I go.

        1. So, I ask, for those that cook-by-recipes only, what's the point in the exercise?
          To learn how that particular recipe was intended to be made by the creator of said recipe. Especially when one is learning to cook, I think that's a good thing. Once the basics are down - technique, food pairings, flavors that go together - you can branch off and be a bit more inventive on your own. But almost everyone needs a base from which to start, and often that means opening up cookbooks. First to learn HOW to do; later, for inspiration.

          Most people on CH are far, far beyond needing a recipe for other than a guideline. However, I still wouldn't have been able to help make Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon (with the separately cooked browned pearl onions) last year with a friend without MTAOFC to refer to.

          Recipes also help us remember how something was made so we can recreate it. And yes, I would want to recreate a particularly tasty dish if it came out brilliantly. So while I do enjoy just "opening the cabinets and throwing things together", I do still use recipes.

          1. I like to think of many recipes as being suggestions or starting points. However, if I want to make something complicated, something in which a substitution that I might normally make cavalierly would be a bad move, then i'll follow the recipe as closely as possible. Definitely key, for me, to follow the recipe if I'm trying to make something I've enjoyed at a restaurant. Or, if there's a new technique I might've been "scared" to try just on my own, making something up. I like to read them, too, like a book!
            But most days, I fly by the seat of my pants and just make it up.