Home Cooking

What Makes a Truly Great Recipe?


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Home Cooking

What Makes a Truly Great Recipe?

jerry i h | | Apr 6, 2011 08:12 PM

At this point in my life, I am what you could call a crusty, jaded, cranky old fart, and loved every second of it. I have gone to cooking school (CCA), discovered/developed what I believe to be the genuine Sacher Torte recipe, had a couple of recipes published in a cooking magazine, had a couple of book proposals rejected, worked in several, vastly different foodservice places (grocery store kitchen, retail butcher, fish monger, restaurant pastry chef and emergency fill-in head chef, pizza-by-the-slice cook, chocolate chef, etc.). I no longer cook using recipes or cookbooks: I find them to be troublesome and often wrong.

Here is my question: what makes a truly great recipe to you?

If you do the same recipe, once with generic ingredients from the local grocery store, and again with high quality ingredients that you have painstakingly gathered from far and wide, the difference can be, but not necessarily, be dramatic. I live in the SF/Bay Area, and locavore, organic, farmer’s market, biodynamic, and whatever, is sometimes worthwhile and edifying, but not always.

We all have those recipes from our younger lives that we value and cherish; as a reference, I am thinking of either hand-written recipes from elders, or those junior league cookbooks that they do not seem to make anymore. When we do them, they sometimes, but not always, recreate the joy we remember them for in our memories. When we try to improve and update according to current credo, the result is always less than edifying.

A disturbing large % of famous, highly regarded cookbooks by a famous chef have oodles of recipes that have obviously never been tested, and have either been invented by the famous chef/author at the word processor keyboard or created by a ghost writer. It would only take a few publisher $$$ to submit the manuscript to a professional test kitchen to ensure that the recipes work as advertised; sadly, few if any publishers take this step. Some that do real recipe testing: Jacques Pepin, Julia Childs, Marion Cunningham, Americas Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated, and Martin Yan (I am sure about Yan, because I worked on one of his TV shows).

Well, I think I first heard this from Felidia Bastianich, but who knows. If you truly love and care about your ingredients and the dinner guests for whom you cook, then the food will be great because it has that je-ne-sais-quoi: love. Well, perhaps, if you already own a chain of successful restaurants, but for the ordinary home cook, I am not so sure.

I love food and cooking, both doing and eating. The greatest event in my life was when I turned my beloved hobby, cooking, into my job each and everyday. No, I do not make a very good living at it, but I would not have it any other way.

What are your thoughts?

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