Wednesday, March 3, 2010

On recipes, and dancing: my cooking philosophy

You may have noticed, I don’t really use recipes.  This is harder to believe if you know me – I’m commonly described as “structured” and “well-organised”.
Maybe it’s my science background, but I’m a big fan of understanding the basic concepts and techniques, so I can bend the rules.  

Sure, it feels great the first time you try a new recipe.  But the joy for me is in taking whatever I have in the fridge, adding a bottle of wine and a few friends, and pulling together something fantastic with no notice.  That never works with a recipe – you freak out because you don’t have olives, or the right cut of chicken, or a lemon.   Instead, I use recipes as a guide - or more often simply a source of inspiration.

I was thinking about this today, and the best analogy I could come up with was this: It’s like dancing.  I don’t mean this in a fruity, cooking-is-art sense, but in a practical sense.  You need to know the basic moves, a few cool steps.  You learn which styles you prefer – ballroom or hip hop – and a few of the well-known dances in your genre.  Then, once you’ve done a few classes and can get through the cha-cha without too much prompting, you start showing off a few steps at a party.
Think about really dancing.  I mean the perfect night out, when you dance for fun, without having to really think about it.  You make it up as you go along.  You take those basics and you mix them up, throw in a few of your own moves, to whatever music is playing at the time.  That’s dancing.

In the same way, food for me is not about the recipe, it’s about the experience you get when you sit down at the table after the work is done.  How does it taste?  There’s no point adding something just because the recipe says so, if you hate it - but you have to know enough to understand the impact of removing or substituting an ingredient.  Once you know why an ingredient is there, you learn whether or not you can mess with it.

In short: don’t expect recipes here, unless we’re baking.  You don’t mess about with baking.

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