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Use of recipes in restaurant kitchens

This grew out of a maddening thread about use of shallots, of all things. A number of posters (some claiming to be chefs) claimed that they never used recipes.

In the last few years, I've helped my chef friend Daniel Orr (La Grenouille, Gustafanos, etc.) translate his "cheffy" recipes into recipes for the home cook. There is a recipe for every cook on the line. They don't look like recipes that home cooks are used to seeing, but they are recipes. There is no one posting here that has the cooking chops that this guy does.

That said,his local restaurant has "Sous Chef Sunday," where the youngsters get to strut their stuff. They usually do an amazing job, but diners coming in are advised that the usual menu is not what's available.

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  1. As a home cook, I rarely use recipes as anything other than suggestions. But then my usual cooking philosophy is "make something edible with what's in the house." This can lead to some unusual dishes, but they're not really reproducible. If I were running a restaurant, OTOH, I'd follow recipes (and insist my line cooks do as well) for regular menu items because it would bring some consistency to the kitchen: if people keep coming to Chez Tardigrade for my renowned dishes they should get what they expect.

    A local Indian restaurant I frequent seems to go with the free-form cooking method, at least for lunch dishes. Items can be staggeringly good or mediocre depending on the chefs' moods that day. They're inexpensive and close, so I put up with it: if I were going to a more expensive, highly-rated place for dinner I'd expect the standard dishes to be consistent with what reviewers reported.

    1. I've never seen/known a restaurant that did follow recipes. Seems absurd to me to think otherwise.

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        1. I see both sides of the coin.

          Baking is chemistry and science - you really do need to follow recipes cuz once it is on the oven, it is in the oven! And using something like Ruhlman's Ratio, I still consider that a recipe.

          That said, there is a thrill and a joy, looking at ingredients and seeing what can happen.

          Then the other other side is - if you have a restaurant, and you promise the same dishes that taste the same every day - even if you don't work off a written recipe - you've trained all your cooks with the unwritten one, so they know what to do. It's just in heir heads, not on paper. Still counts : )

          My Dad was all of the above. He was a short order cook through college, so he could cook 4 different dishes at once for us, on the fly, and have them all come out done at the same time. He was also a great dish inventor. But he also loved a good recipe so that, if you were trying a cuisine you'd never tried before, and there was no other chef there, you could still do it.

          1. Yes, restaurants use recipes. Do all? Probably not.

            I would "guess" that most do, though.