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No Recipes Or Celebrity Chefs? Is Michael Booth Crazy?

3 Comments

gordon1Maybe, maybe not.

In an article appearing in today’s Belfast Telegraph journalist Michael Booth warns us not to follow recipes or listen to celebrity chefs.

His assertion is that “recipes don’t work”. His credentials? A year of cooking school. What’s he selling? A book that has recipes in it.

By his own admission before Michael went to cooking school his food was terrible, his soufflés imploded, his sauces tasted like creosote. Why? Well he blames the recipes and the chefs that wrote them.

Sigh . . .

This is a lot like blaming the instructions for rebuilding my car’s engine for my inability to rebuild it. The real problem is that I don’t know enough about car engines to accomplish this high level task. The instructions are not intended to teach the fundamentals of engine repair.

In short, don’t blame Jaime Olivers, Gordon Ramsay or the Fat Ladies and their recipes if you don’t have the cooking experience to follow them. I expect if you were to meet Gordon at a party and ask him why your effort to make one of his sauces ended up tasting like creosote he’d say something like “@#$@#, do you even know how to make a bloody sauce in the first place?”.

Which brings us to the crux of the problem. You can’t expect to just follow in a line by line manner complex recipes and expect great results. At some point you’re going to have to learn how to cook. Recipes are instructions on the what, not an education on the how. When a recipe indicates chop, slice or reduce the expectation is that you know how to do that.

And if you don’t, your food will taste like creosote.

So while we can hardly agree with blaming the recipe for what is ultimately a dearth of cooking knowledge and experience, as it turns out the further you read into his article ultimately Michael hits the nail on the head. LEARN THE BASICS.

My point is just don’t blame the recipes before you do.

Michael Booth’s book is called Sacré Cordon Bleu. While I don’t agree with notion of blaming the recipes for poor cooking skills (I’ll bet he has no trouble following recipes now) Michael’s book seems more about his experience in Paris and at the highly regarded Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. It’s brand new and I have not read it yet but his book sounds very interesting, I am especially interested in his first hand account of a novice attending such a high end school. I do not believe its available yet in the U.S but you can read more about it and purchase it here (NO affiliation with Kitchen Warfare).

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3 Comments »

  • Michael said:

    Hello Chowhound,

    Thanks for your understanding about my rather melodramatic article, which first appeared in the Independent. I liked your mechanic’s metaphor but the thing is, I don’t know of any DIY mechanic’s books that are pitched at absolute beginners in quite the same way that mass market cook books are. Jamie, Delia and Nigella are touting their recipes as suitable for beginners, so I do think there is some justification for criticism when beginners use them and they don’t work (and, boy, is the web buzzing with people who are pissed off with Nigella’s recipes these days). I also felt a little exasperated at recent recipes from her telling us to pour honey over cocktail sausages and put them in the oven, and Delia Smith telling everyone to buy instant mash and pre-grated cheese to save a couple of seconds. It seems like we are being lobotomised in the kitchen which is why many people find that they can’t follow recipes that are slightly more complicated.
    I was fortunate enough to be able to live a kind of foodie fantasy, enrol at a great cooking school and they go and test my skills in a Michelin starred restaurant (L’Atelier Joel Robuchon), but I am actually not sure what the broader solution to this is. More cooking and nutrition classes in schools, probably.

  • aardvarknav said:

    I had the good luck to be stationed in the Air Force at Portsmouth NH in the 70s when Chef James Haller had his Blue Strawberry restaurant. He is also a proponent of cooking without recipes. I suggest you try to find a copy of his Blue Strawberry cookbook. It is one of those cookbooks that provides a seminal influence on your future cooking. Last year, Mimi, at French Kitchen in America, had a nice article on Chef Haller (http://frenchkitcheninamerica.blogspot.com/2007/02/chef-james-haller-cooking-from-heart.html.)

  • Kitchen booth - Kitchen booth - Booth said:

    […] No Recipes Or Celebrity Chefs? Is Michael Booth Crazy? | Kitchen Maybe, maybe not. In an article appearing in today's Belfast Telegraph journalist Michael Booth warns us not to follow recipes or listen to celebrity. No Recipes Or Celebrity Chefs? Is Michael Booth Crazy? | Kitchen […]

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