Scene 1: In a lovely Upper East Side apartment, an impeccably put together woman leans forward and confides: “You really don’t need recipes to cook. I took a class at Macy’s Degustibus and the chef teaching the class explained that. He said that you don’t use recipes, but instead go to the market, see what is fresh, take it home, and then just cook it. If you know how to cook, you don’t need recipes.”
Scene 2: In a cooking school classroom in Chelsea, a student puts down a large stack of cookbooks she just bought. She is taking the professional pastry program so that she can leave her job working as a chef in an executive dining room to start a new career as a pastry chef. She bought the cookbooks on the street en route from the professional kitchen in which she worked all day to the classroom where she learned for five hours, four times a week. She also does wedding cakes on the side and has a sick husband and children that need her attention. Why does she have time for cookbooks? Why is she reading Tom Colicchio’s Think Like a Chef?
Scene 3: One mother confesses to another: “My mother makes the most delicious cakes and pastries–traditional Hungarian specialties–but she doesn’t have recipes. She just makes everything from her head, and each time it is a little different. I tried getting a recipe, and the I watched her make the recipe, and the way she made it was completely different from what she wrote down I should do!”
Scene 4: One sister tells the other: “I’m not making pizza dough. It is easier to just buy the dough from the pizza store.”
The other sister points out that making pizza dough is just a matter of mixing flour, water, salt, and yeast. “It takes two seconds to mix together, and you don’t even need a recipe. Just dump about three cups of flour in a bowl, add a little yeast and salt, and pour in about a cup of warm water and mix it around and let it rise. Who wants to get in the car to go the pizza place to buy dough? Once I am there, I can just buy the pizza already made!”
“Well,” points out the first sister, “maybe it is easy for you to make pizza dough, but for me it means following a recipe and it takes time and it just isn’t worth it.”
So, what do you think? Do we need recipes? Sure, we get lots of ideas from cookbooks, but wouldn’t cooking be easier for us and save lots of time if we mastered a repertoire like our grandmothers so that we didn’t need to look in a book every time we wanted to make something?
Personally, I like to experiment, but I try to record what I do, so that I remember for next time and so that I can pass the recipe along. Even when I am cooking without a recipe, I try to write down a recipe from my experiment. I get lots of good ideas from cookbooks and from other people. On the other hand, looking through recipes takes up a lot of precious time that I could be spending actually cooking. Needing a recipe is what keeps people from cooking because it can be the difference between something being easy to make or too hard.