Are recipes death?

Found this nugget in an essay I started a while back. The rest of the essay’s mostly a waste, but I like these questions! What do you think?

Do you cook from rote? Do you envy people who can wander into a grocery store, grab a seemingly incoherent list of ingredients and, without any guide whatsoever, transform the bags of stuff into a delightful and unexpected meal?

Do recipes inspire?

Do usability laws?

Do you innovate when you walk into the project with preconceived notions?

Do you come up with game-changing ideas by following the rules?

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  1. If it’s a recipe, someone has cooked it. That is their guideline, and you can and should always make yours. Just make sure your goal isn’t cherry cheesecake but you instead end up with cheese curds.

  2. RSL says:

    I prefer cooking without a recipe. I read Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Anything which talked about how our grandparents cooked a larger variety of foods without having to use recipes and without having to go to the store every two days. He explains that they did this by learning basic cooking skills and by taking what you have and turning it into something amazing and delicious. Well, those are my words but the idea was his. Kinda sounds like programming too, doesn’t it?

  3. Ottercat says:

    I think both have value. Recipes give ideas as well as a structure in which to safely learn. I’ve got a large number of cookbooks — which I seldom use at this point, except when I want an idea. But for things which are really, really unique/creative, yes, you do need to put down the cookbooks and step out for a challenge — for me it was cooking for 30 in the woods for a week — Saturday night would be my "play" night, when i would experiment and came up with things like pineapple goat cheese penne pasta or nectarines in a honey garlic chambourd sauce. Or another time where I oversaw a kitchen cooking for 80, where it was a "stone soup" proposition — we prepared 15 dishes in 5 hours, with salmon, venison, and more…..

    But without the experience I’d gained learning from recipies, and a willingness to break the rules, I never would have been able to do this.

  4. Matt J. says:

    The recipe is the means of discipline. Like a music composition student studying the styles of the great composers for 3 years of college before he is "allowed" to write his own music his senior year. Out of deep knowledge of the fundamentals comes the ability to move out an innovate. If, as a freshman, right out of the gate you say, "I’m going to write something original here!" then it’s going to suck.

  5. The best cooking I ever did, I was stoned out of my mind. I can’t remember what I started out with the intention to make, but what I ended up with was a midpoint on the spectrum from stir-fry to salsa, with fried tortilla chips cut in wiggy papery shapes. But I don’t think I would have been able to do that if I hadn’t cooked a lot of stuff properly by following the rules first.

  6. Kristopher Browne says:

    Recipe’s can be viewed at two levels… Using whole recipes that have a dozen parts can reduce you to rote cooking with little variety.

    But, if you try and master single pieces, lets call them "Recipe Patterns", you can have master ideas that you always know what you need and what the process is.

    If you know Hollandaise, you have a dozen recipes you can bring to life with little extra planning, for example.

    The trick is finding neat ways to combine the patterns you know into a product that works.

  7. FiddleMath says:

    and I think the difference between learning from recipes and just learning recipes is how reflective you are as you cook. If you cook a thousand pumpkin pies, but never stop to think about, say, the difference between the flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg, then you only know how to cook pumpkin pie.

    So, think what the pie would be like with a dash of ginger, or chocolate, or vanilla. What if you use the same spices on a sweet potato pie? What if you change the crust entirely? Can you make the same stuff into a cake?

    In general, this is the difference between knowing the rules and understanding the rules.

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