Monday, January 16, 2012

On Recipes

I've been thinking a lot about recipes lately.  There must be a better way of representing recipes that appeals to the different type of learners. GOOD, ran a competition last year about redesign of recipes. Most of the recipes were geared to a more visual way of making a recipe accessible to readers.  Many included visual representation of techniques.  Reminded me of some of the step by step cookbooks that my mother had. Every step had a picture to show what was what.  It was clear what a translucent onion looked like or what a properly browned pot roast was.

Aki and Alex from Ideas in Food has written a post talking about the difference of a kitchen pro and a home cook.  A kitchen pro already knows what they are going to do at the start.  Most seasoned home cooks will adjust will little regard or knowledge about what they are doing. It strikes me that most recipes do not offer the why of the technique and that most home cooks don't care.  They have to get supper on the table and hope it tastes good.

In terms of recipes themselves, there is some thought of returning to a more instinctual style of cooking like our mother's mother's mother would recognize.  My wife has recently begun taking back the kitchen for two meals a week.  She has been getting more comfortable with improvising and making better decisions with flavours.  It is often more of a gentle art.  As long as you understand certain ratios, or certain techniques then you open up opportunities.  Whether it be ratios like Michael Ruhlman or more of an artful approach like A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider, there is definitely a move to a traditional approach to cooking.

If you look back to earlier mass cookbooks like Joy of Cooking or Fannie Farmer, you can see a collection of recipes that reflect a certain style of entertaining.  Each section would start with an overview of the area, usually arranged by course, and then follow with a few techniques and many recipes.  There was very little around how to improvise or change the recipes.  These books were intended to introduce women to nutrition and healthful eating; to act as a primer to a proper home economics course.The movement towards the science and technique of cooking continues with popular choices such as America's Test Kitchen.

What really sparked this review of types of cookbooks and recipes was the recent post about the cookie generator.  I can't help but believe that we can do better.  This idea of recipe generation gets close to marrying the science aspect of precision with the improvisational nature of creation.  Different websites have already begun to work in a way that values what you have in the house with the type of food you eat.  Searches and filters are working better to finding a recipe that will work for you.  This still feels as if it favours engineers and precision.

 It seems as if we are very close to being able to give everyday cooks all the tools they need to quickly reach a balance between the precise recipes of the recent past with the techniques and intuition of an older generation of intuitive cooks.  I am looking forward to seeing these moments because I think that there will be a growth of good food using traditional and scientific techniques with innovative tastes that will be really excellent.  Maybe we will get a glimpse on a new Escoffier in our lifetime. Or at least we will have a lot of really good recipes.

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