The taste test is key. If you ever watch a chef at work, he is constantly tasting, tasting, tasting. Add the veggies - taste; add the liquid - taste; add the meat - taste. Salt, pepper, spices; taste. While they are following a recipe in their minds, their success on the dish is based on taste. Following a written recipe and creating taste is a paradox.
How are recipes created? At a moment in time, someone picks out food items and starts putting them together. Simultaneously, they write down what they’re doing. Recipes include differing ingredients and amounts; various methods of preparation; standing, cooking times and hopefully all the tips and tricks you need for success. Back to the paradox. When reading a recipe the reader sees something must be done a certain way. Fact is, to get the result you’re looking for, every recipe has to be somewhat modified every time it’s made.
Whoever thought to begin writing recipes anyway? The oldest recipe ever found is said to have been on the walls of the ancient Egyptian tomb of Senet. It was a recipe for flatbreads. The next recorded recipe was for Sumerian beer, locally referred to a ‘liquid bread’. This recipe was found on clay tablets dedicated to the beer goddess Ninkasi.
I love reading cookbooks - all kinds. The activity makes for a magical journey as I can imaging the chefs at work. Cookbooks are books after all and they can enchant and tantalize all the senses of human nature and engage the heart, soul and mind of the reader.
Back to using the recipe. Every cooking situation is different. Key elements of a recipe including processes, timing and ingredients have to be adjusted and modified to fit each particular situation. There are also lots of outside influences aside from following the recipe that also impart change. Things like altitude; water source; air temperature and even the temperature setting on the oven. I can guarantee you your 350oF is different than mine.
Being totally distracted by following any recipe exactly takes away from the final product. While it may be a truly successful creation in the end, it can also be a huge hit and miss. Whatever the final result is, it’s probably nothing like the first one the recipe was created for.
Chefs compare the cooking experience to the process of an artist. You can’t equate the technical process of painting with the finished work of art. There is a gap between the recipe - the step-by-step procedure and the completed dish. I truly believe cooking - baking included - is one of the most creative, fabulous forms of art there is.
Don’t be distracted by trying to following a recipe and don’t be distracted by trying to write your own recipes down. Continue to create; grab those guideline recipes and savour your own flavour. Your favourite dish now may be far from the original recipe. Everyone loves it and instead of being a negative experience of not turning out like the recipe said - it’s probably better than the original.
Nancy Revie is a Guelph author, motivational speaker, fitness instructor and entertainer. Visit Nancy at www.nancyrevie.com . Her column appears every other week.