Several people emailed me Kim Severson’s NYTimes story on recipes and the point at which we will close the book on them.  This story really riled my friend Mike Pardus, instructor of Asian cuisines at the Culinary Institute of America.

        "I understand that certain things are above and beyond most people’s skill levels, purchasing power, equipment investment threshold, etc.," he writes. "That’s why I hire carpenters. I suck at carpentry and I don’t have the proper tools. So – I don’t call myself a ‘carpenter’…

        "In each example of a ‘deal breaker’ Ms. Severson refers to a ‘good cook’ an ‘adventurous cook’ …sorry, if you won’t fry, or lard or truss, or can’t butterfly an anchovy you should not be calling yourself a ‘cook’ without some sort of qualifier – like ‘backyard mechanic’ or ‘weekend warrior’ of ‘armchair quarterback.’

        "What really sent me over the edge was her description of Keller as ‘the modern King of fussy recipes’…if you’re really a ‘cook,’ you get it … if you’re not – you don’t. To Cooks, Keller is the master technician we all want to learn from and emulate; Ms. Severson makes him sound like a anal retentive crackpot.

        "So, you wannabe a cook, or you ARE one? Guess it all depends on how well you can read – and interpret – the sheet music, and how often you’re willing to practice your scales."

Pardus’s job is to teach technique and he truly cares about the craft of cooking, so I understand his ire.  I thought Severson’s story interesting and humorous.  I share Pardus’s annoyance, though, with her characterization of Keller and know exactly why it sent this excellent instructor of cooks over the edge: the statement implies that she’d rather have it easy than know how to do it correctly.

And this is what annoys me most about chef cookbooks—or perhaps the publishers of chef cookbooks.  They all want to simplify great technique so that the chef’s work is accessible to the home cook, which hurts both the chef and the home cook.  One of the great values of the French Laundry Cookbook is that the recipes are pretty much exact documents of how those recipes are done at the restaurant.  I’ve never made the coronets because I don’t own cornet molds, but it’s a pretty cool tuile recipe—with a little imagination you could bend it to your own desires.  And if I want to know how that tuile is turned into a little cone, I can read about it exactly.

I’m midway through Julian Barnes’s Pedant in the Kitchen.  Barnes wrote one of my all time favorite novels and is one of Britain’s best writers period, but this collection of columns from, I believe, The Guradian is one long whine about how hard recipes are.  His problem, and it’s the same frame of mind Severson describes, is that he insists on following recipes before he understands anything about basic techniques.

Really good cooking is a craft, and those recipes that best describe that craft, whether simple or advanced, move all cooks forward. Those recipes that help you avoid craft, to get around it, set people who want to become better cooks, back.

Do you want fast and simple?  Grill a steak.  Want a great sauce that doesn’t involve making and reducing veal stock?  Mince a shallot and mix it with some soft butter and lemon juice. But don’t get mad at a recipe for a classical Bordelaise sauce.

I understand that some people, most people, want to eat good unprocessed food but don’t have the desire or time to learn to cook or prepare elaborate recipes from America’s most talented chefs.  Those are the people who most need to learn the few basic techniques upon which all cooking is based.  Those who cook for pleasure won’t progress as cooks until they do that as well.  It wouldn’t take long. There are just a handful of them.

As for recipes, Heidi wrote a nice post last fall on what I’ve written about recipes.  They’re important, but they vary in quality of composition, so ultimately you have to know how to use them.


UPDATE 6/6: Carole Blymire, author of the French Laundry at Home blog, commented on the word fussy and the recipes generally in The French Laundry Cookbook.  No one is more qualified to comment on this subject, and therefore on the subject of difficult recipes, so I’m reprinting them here.

I understand where Kim was going with the piece; that said, the use of the word "fussy" is something I do take issue with.

As someone who is cooking her way through The French Laundry Cookbook, I know I’m biased, but I don’t really find these recipes "fussy." Why? Fussy, to me, implies that there’s something unnecessarily over-the-top or demanding that is being requested by someone who lacks expertise. And, that’s not the case with TFLCookbook.

For me, it’s all about trust. If the chef/owner of 2 of the best restaurants in the land is recommending a certain way to do something to yield the best result, then damn skippy I’m gonna try it. I’m grateful for the book and its amazing sharing of technique and flavor combinations — I’ve gotten an incredible education from cooking my way through it. It’s cracked open so many "Oh, NOW I get it" moments that have changed the way I make a sandwich, pull together a last-minute salad dressing, or cook a steak. And, it’s actually made me smarter, faster, and more creative in the kitchen. Now, I can pull together a really great dinner for 6 in 20-30 minutes, and truly blow my friends away.

I can’t tell you the number of emails I get from my readers who say that they thought the dishes in TFLC were too hard until they actually sat down, focused, and made one. It’s almost like it’s the world’s best-kept secret: these dishes are totally doable; you just have to pay attention to what you’re doing.

I was actually more offended by many of the commenters on the article on the NYT site. Chopping parsley or whisking an egg are dealbreakers? What the fuck is wrong with people?  –Carol Blymire


143 Wonderful responses to “Recipe Dealbreakers”

  • Russ

    Chopsticks or Beethoven’s Ninth…. it still comes down to knowing what notes to play when and with what intensity. The nuance of sound or the subtlety of taste both come from understanding and not by accident.

  • Maya

    My bachelor’s degree happens to be in classical music,and I play violin, so I have an opinion on the linguistics of the music analogy. Anyone can call themselves a musician. I won’t ever whine about who calls themselves a musician! That’s just childish.

    The way we define ourselves as musicians is what we do specifically. Just a theoretical example:

    “I’m a cello player, and I have spent 9 years years with the Boston Symphony Orchestra”. Versus “I started playing guitar 6 months ago and I play with my friend’s garage band from time to time”.

    Same with cooks. Anyone should be able to call themselves a cook because like music, it’s been done since the time of cavemen, most likely.

    “I’ve been a cook for Mesa Grill in New York City for 7 years” is a lot more specific thank “I’m a cook”. It allows people to make their own judgements based on facts.

  • John

    So, the consensus is that if you don’t want to plunge headlong into the most difficult and bizzare forms of food prep, you aren’t a cook? WTF? I’ll match chops with just about anyone who isn’t a full-time working PROFESSIONAL, but I won’t try to spit-roast a whole pig, or emulate Fernan Adria and convert my kitchen to a mol-gas lab, does that mean that when I provide a meal for 24 on 4 hours notice,I’m not to refer to myself as a cook? (Roast chicken with 4 sauces, steamed new potatoes, salad, and I bought a cake.)
    And many recipes aren’t useable as written. Period.
    If I have to rebuild the author’s food dream from scratch, then why use a recipe? While I will yearn for the day I get to eat at Per Se or French Laundry, the recipes are so, yes, “fussy” that I can’t see producing most of them them myself. Just like some restaurants are steakhouses, and others are French provincial, I’m not everything to everybody. It’s not always about “can I do it” it’s more like, “do I want to?” Do I want to make veal stock, or play with my kids? I’ll buy the veal stock, thanks. Does that make me not a cook? Or should I refer to myself as a “sort-of” cook?
    Sorry, elitism brings out the worst in me. You want to push people AWAY from making their food better? Keep it up, guys.

  • drago

    John – I think that the difference between you and the subject of ire is that you probably know HOW to do many of those things, you just usually choose not to. Choosing to buy stock most of the time is different than just completely refusing to learn how to properly make one.

    I’ve never spit-roasted a whole pig but give me a whole Saturday, a spit, and a pig (and maybe some beer) and I could probably wing it.

    Severson’s article has popped up all over the web in the past day and a lot of the responses seem to be people agreeing that there are certain tasks that they absolutely refuse to do. In my opinion there’s a difference between that and simply saying that certain cooking tasks are not well-suited for, say, a Tuesday evening.

  • the Gobbler

    What I dont get about people who complain about recipes being too hard or fussy is they ignore the fact that they are first & foremost someone else’s expression. They are the way they and simplifying them just because one might find them too laborious or technically challenging just dilutes their intent. Its also adding insult to injury to then complain that the recipe was too difficult to reproduce at home-my advice, dont try to!
    Just because a restaurant MUST cater to the needs of the customer & at times this might mean changing a dish etc it dosn’t mean that the chef has to do it in a recipe for their book. In this way, cook books are almost the purest form of the intent of the recipe, perhaps more so than actually eating it in the restaurant environment?

  • Pedro

    “Those are the people who most need to learn the few basic techniques upon which all cooking is based. Those who cook for pleasure won’t progress as cooks until they do that as well. It wouldn’t take long. There are just a handful of them.”

    Hmmm. Would you name them? Perhaps it’s a good subject for a full blown post, “Basic Techniques upon which All Cooking is based.”

  • Tricia

    Hey! Calm down. Pardus makes it all sound so black and white: If you can’t/won’t/don’t butterfly an anchovy you’re not a good cook? Nah. Maybe you’re a good cook in a cuisine or a style that doesn’t use that technique or it doesn’t interest you. Maybe you’re a good home cook who doesn’t use anchovies. (There’s that qualifier he’s looking for. Though, instead of a qualifier, he seems to be looking for a “diminisher.”) I cook seven meals a week. There’s little chance I’m going to master every technique in my lifetime at that rate, so there are going to be some that aren’t worth my time. And that might include trussing, larding, and butterflying anchovies.

    There’s an awful lot of room between “makes own veak stock” and “not a cook.”

  • rockandroller

    I agree with points both John and Maya have made. I think it’s elitist to insist that unless you can do X, Y and Z you are not a cook – Maya’s musician example illustrates this well (garage band vs. classically trained). Is Pat Benetar (not a fan, just using her as an example) not a “real” singer because she sings rock and roll? What if you were to find out that she was trained as a classical opera singer (true). Is she a musician NOW?

    I think there is a line between professional cook and everyone else that cooks, but saying you’re not a cook if you can’t do X, Y and Z is annoying.

  • Savannah

    It looks like American food culture is going through some growing pains.

    Chef Pardus has thrown down by saying that anyone who can’t butterfly an anchovy (they’re big enough to be butterflied!?) should use a qualifier before calling themselves a cook. And then giving insulting, obviously pejorative examples like “armchair quarterback.”

    To understand where he’s coming from, though, I suggest everyone read Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” again. Read the part where he decides to go pro, to commit his life to this field. If I remember correctly, it involves a vow to “let bucket-headed French chefs abuse me.” Basically, he says there’s no limit to what he will go through. All so that he can become quite the opposite of a home cook; someone who can butterfly an anchovy.

    After the intense sacrifices people make to develop those skills, you bet they’re going to be proud and defensive, and get angry when outsiders make complaints that show ignorance of technique. John, I would argue that elitism has nothing to do with that kind of anger. Chefs work like dogs for years to acquire their skills. If you’ve mastered a body of knowledge by putting in 12-hour days on your feet in 130-degree kitchens for twenty years, I feel you have a right to be proud and even defensive of your skills.


    We also cook who only cook at home. And the professionals who suffered to gain their skills should be *more* understanding, not less, of the pressures home cooks are under. Yes, we do lack “basic skills.” As Ruhlman points out, we lack even the knowledge *that* we lack basic skills. We lack time, too, and resources. But we’re under the gun to compete with easily-available alternatives nonetheless.

    And some of us do, rather innocently, fall in love with food without *quite* understanding how big the gap really is between us and the people who not only make it look easy on TV, but very often *tell us* it is easy. When we crack a really serious cookbook and discover that, actually, it’s *not* easy, and we complain, and those same people (metaphorically) yell at us, it hurts.

    But I understand that it hurts the chefs too.

    One of the things AB says in “Kitchen Confidential” is that being a pro cook–in the early days of his career, at least–was a life entirely apart. Almost like being a monk. Outsiders didn’t understand–couldn’t understand–and the cooks liked it that way. The two worlds didn’t meet and weren’t supposed to. In fact, as AB tells it, most line cooks got into the business precisely in order to get away from the normal world and never encounter it again.

    Maybe that’s how it should be. Maybe the two sides aren’t meant to understand each other or try to cross over. Maybe these name cookbooks are making things worse. Maybe.

  • randal

    Sorry, Michael–that’s a steaming load, akin to saying that someone can’t be a cook if he or she doesn’t wear the right hat. (But there’s a reason we wear those hats!)

    If you want to argue that someone is a good or bad cook based on technique, fine. Be my guest. But suggesting that I and hundreds of others aren’t cooks at all because we don’t properly violate our chicken before we cook it, or don’t have a taste for camel genitals, or haven’t personally slaughtered their own pig, or are vegans (by your definition vegans can NEVER be cooks, and while I’m not a vegan I’m not so mighty as to suggest that they’re somehow unworthy of the title), is the height of pretension.

    Come down from your ivory tower and hit the grocery store with the working class, where the issue of fois gras isn’t about its cruelty and sustainability vis-a-vis other foods, but that it’s an extravance for the wasteful Bourgeoisie. We eat, too, and the folks preparing our food are every bit as deserving of the title “cook” as Keller is, based on what we do every single day to feed ourselves.

  • evil chef mom

    I have to agree with Maya, everyone in some form or another cooks but there is a difference. I did notice though when I made gelato the other day, I strained the cherry puree I was using, the recipe didn’t call for me do it. Is it fussy, probably. Did it make a better product, yes. Does it make me a better home cook , yes. I’d rather do a recipe correctly than easily. I will never be a professionally trained chef but because I know how to do X, Y, and Z, I become better at my hobby and a lot more educated at the same time and better yet I now understand why some recipes have failed in the past.

  • ruhlman

    i’m not going to get into the terminology dispute (and i like maya’s distinctions).

    but to randal and others who will surely weigh in, what i believe is this: America is too focused on making cooking easier. What it should focus on is making cooking smarter. we all should work on being smarter cooks. As the talented chef Eric Ziebold often said, “Don’t work faster, work smarter.” That’s where ease and quickness originate, not in dumbed down recipes.

    I cook almost every day for my family and shop at a family run grocery store in my neighborhood. The food is simple and fresh. I spend an hour preparing dinner when i have the time, and usually combine that hour with talking with my wife and watching the news. I use a couple pots and pans, a couple knives a couple spoons. The four of us eat together, even though the 13-yr-old thinks this is somehow onerous.

    pedro, not a blog post, but maybe a book!

  • joelfinkle

    I consider myself a hacker cook — not a hack, but hacker as in the classical computer geek term. And not a cracker either — I’m not out to break security, I’m out to get to the hard of the problem and solve it.

    So I may take shortcuts — not strain a sauce, use commercial beef stock instead of homemade veal (at least I’ve upgraded from canned broth, and I just finally found enough veal bones to make stock — maybe this weekend if it’s not too hot). But I’m understanding what I’m cooking.

    What stops me from cooking a recipe? My fussy eaters. I’m the only one in the house that will touch fish, for one. I only get to cook it when there’s a dinner party with multiple main courses. Items such as aspics and offal I’m not fond of the flavors and textures, so I just bleep over them (like Linus reading Tolstoy).

    But I never shirk from trying a technique at least once. I’m getting pretty good at my knife skills, my grilling, pan roasting; I need some work at sauce reduction, but I’m learning and enjoying. Sometimes, I say, “that wasn’t worth it” and I don’t do it often again, maybe save it up for a holiday.

    Between reading “Elements” and my practice, I can follow and often predict what TV chefs will do next, which is kind of cool on Iron Chef (it was especially cool to know that Mario Batali was making a Dolsot Bibimbap even if he never called it that).

  • Andy

    Interesting article. So what books would you recommended to learn the basic craft for the novice cook?

  • Claudia (the Original)

    Pardus is right to be irritated about the characterization of Keller as “fussy”, when, yes, he really is just the consummate craftsman that every professional chef seeks to emulate. But, yes, non-professionals who cook at home who might do so at a pretty high level (or certainly a lot higher than most people) are still cooks. HOME cooks. There’s the qualifier I think he was looking for (like “backyard gardener”).

    I think Severson exaggerated the point in her article (which was humorous, by the way) – SHE might not fry, truss or lard, but a lot of us do. And double-strain, even when we don’t have to, and chill our bowls first when making mousse (in a kitchen we’ve deliberately made sure is cold/cool, first), etc., etc. I think it gets down more to an issue of space and/or equipment than, say, an unwillingness to filet anchovies or truss a bird for most of us.

    PS: Ohhh . . . yeah . . . I DID haul most of a wild boar up five stories into a tiny studio apartment kitchen about 20 years ago. Let’s just say, between the schlepping across town (in a CAB – how many professionals have hauled whole carcasses back to the kitchen in a CAB?!!) and hauling upstairs and debristling some stray bristles . . . well, it’s just too painful to discuss any further . . . but maybe that’s why my lease wasn’t renewed . . . I wonder if Bill Buford got evicted for the same offense? (!!))

  • eriq

    I think Thomas Keller is getting a bad rap, here. I’m speaking more about the Bouchon cookbook than French Laundry, but the recipes I’ve done are not unreasonably difficult, and actually _work_.

    I’d done variations on “egg pies” before (which are great, mind you), and after reading Bouchon, I started making quiche. Quite a few. And they turned out perfectly. I had been given the impression that quiche (and custards generally) were very tricky. But these just worked.

    Same with pots de creme. Another custard, and the recipe just worked. My ice cream texture became better when I followed some of the techniques in his ice cream recipe (whisking egg yolks with sugar before tempering the eggs). (oh, look! another custard!)

    I know some of his recipes are beyond my skill and equipment level, but that doesn’t mean all of them are. And I know they’ll be there if those change.

    Thomas Keller has done good by me. I think this excerpt from The French Laundry intro does him justice:

    “But you won’t have a perfect [custard] if you merely follow my instructions. If you don’t feel it, it’s not a perfect custard, no matter how well you’ve executed the mechanics. On the other hand, if it’s not literally a perfect custard, but you have maintained a great feeling for it, then you have created a recipe perfectly because there was that passion behind what you did.”

  • amber

    i’d venture to guess that for most home cooks a recipe from keller or someone similar would stop them dead in their tracks. i know it would have done that to me just a year ago. hopefully, by continuing to expose people to upsides of using good foods and good technique, you’ll get some converts and more home cooks will be willing to try new things in the kitchen and not be so scared of possibly failing.

    personally, i like learning new things in the kitchen. i like learning new techniques — that “a-ha!” moment is priceless. but, i’m not cracking open TFL cookbook on a wednesday night when i’m home at 7 and need to have dinner on the table before 8. it’s just not happening. however, give me a free weekend and a chance to organize my grocery list in advance and i’m all over it!

    sure, there is a difference between home cooks and the professional cook, but to say that those of us making dinner every night for our families and friends (while balancing a host of other things) aren’t cooks, just seems a bit off.

  • amber

    i’d venture to guess that for most home cooks a recipe from keller or someone similar would stop them dead in their tracks. i know it would have done that to me just a year ago. hopefully, by continuing to expose people to upsides of using good foods and good technique, you’ll get some converts and more home cooks will be willing to try new things in the kitchen and not be so scared of possibly failing.

    personally, i like learning new things in the kitchen. i like learning new techniques — that “a-ha!” moment is priceless. but, i’m not cracking open TFL cookbook on a wednesday night when i’m home at 7 and need to have dinner on the table before 8. it’s just not happening. however, give me a free weekend and a chance to organize my grocery list in advance and i’m all over it!

    sure, there is a difference between home cooks and the professional cook, but to say that those of us making dinner every night for our families and friends (while balancing a host of other things) aren’t cooks, just seems a bit off.

  • Kate F

    (For the record, I thought the article was amusing!)

    I just want to touch on what Michael said about the French Laundry cookbook being an accurate representation of the recipes used at the restaurant, rather than watered down versions designed not to scare the home cooks. I really appreciate the restaurant cookbooks that stay true to the originals. There are plenty of great cookbooks out there aimed at giving me quick or simple recipes. But if I eat at an amazing restaurant and then get a bee in my bonnet about wanting to emulate something I had there, I would be pretty bummed to end up with a simplistic imitation. No one forces you to buy the French Laundry cookbook and make Tuesday dinners out of it!

    As I have cooked my way through Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques cookbook I have learned so much about why the food in great restaurants tastes so amazing–three days of rubs or brines or whatever it is that leaves the meat so flavorful; tons of different spices and herbs, combined in ways I’d never think of… I save those recipes for dinner parties when I can devote plenty of time to preparation, but each time I pick up a new bit of culinary knowledge, and I don’t feel talked down to.

  • randal

    I dunno, Michael–while I can make mayonnaise from an egg, I generally don’t do it.

    We take the shortcuts that we must. If that means I make chicken noodle soup with canned chicken stock and chicken and fresh vegetables in half an hour instead of from scratch in two or three hours or from a can in two minutes, where does that fall on the continuum?

    I had a friend who was, among other things, a food writer, who had a dish he called “open three cans hurry to the ballet,” which was precisely what as described. It wasn’t fancy, but it took care of nutrition and taste. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have a great dislike of prepackaged foods, or refer to pre-ground pepper as “gunpowder.”

  • Kate in the NW

    This is cool.
    I know you’re all dying to know what I think, so here it is… 😉

    Was Picasso a shoemaker because he used different (inferior?) techniques from DaVinci? What about Pollack? Warhol? Are photographers inferior to painters or sculptors? Should we sneer in dirisive contempt at the struggles of a talented and inspired (but untrained) 10-year-old because their technique is not yet mature? I don’t know the answers to these questions.

    Look – I think cooking is an art. A lot of you guys here are f-ing BRILLIANT at what you do, which is why my budget gets blown every month by eating out.

    I’m also a pretty good “cook”. I feed my friends and family and lots of them enjoy meals at my house more that they do at your restaurants, no matter how talented you are. No offense. There’s a lot that goes into a good meal and the food is only part of it. Ask a bunch of chefs where they want to go for food on their night off, and it seems like a lot of them (including the above-and-often-cited-Mr.-Bourdain) will tell you “at my/somebody’s mom’s house.” Who probably doesn’t have setirling technique.

    Excruciatingly exquitie technique can be used in service to food, or it can be used to separate us from it. I’ve had gorgeous food that was…cold. Spiritually, not in temperature. I’ve had plates full of schlock that fed my very soul.

    If you like to paint-by-numbers, follow the recipe exactly, no questions asked. You might learn something – like fine technique, or maybe that food is a living, variable thing that requires special treatment – EVERY TIME. If the chef who wrote the recipe were next to you, $100 bucks says s/he would make variations depending on your specific ingredients, the humidity, your oven, etc. And yes, I know a lot of you will argue that great technique takes all that into account – I agree. But some people get all rigid about it, which (I think) misses the point.

    I’m one of those (horrible?) people who sees recipes as inspiration, as suggestion, but not as law. I want my food to be MY food – if I want YOUR food, I’ll go to your restaurant.

    That being said, I recently took a technique class because I recognized that my cooking was being limited by my lack of proper technique. Most of you would still have to get really drunk to endure watching me in the kitchen. But I’m getting better – and my food is still MY food, just better.

    I admire and envy those of you who have devoted your professional careers and/or spare time to mastering technique. I’m just not one of you – and I can’t help but look at my cooking and think that’s okay – there’s room for all of us to make good food and feed people. And there’s room for all of us to get better. Except maybe Keller. That guy is some sort of savant freak. In a very, very good way.

    Michael – have you ever considered making a series of VERY DETAILED “Technique for Idiots” DVD’s? Because some things even the best words and photos can’t convey – you have to see it happening. And not everyone lives somewhere they can attend a class.
    Just a thought. I’d buy them.

    Thanks again for fomenting discussiona and unrest. It’s enlightening and entertaining.

  • radish

    I agree with Kim. I am a home cook. Most books are made for home cooks. We are the ones who buy the books. We put out a lot of meals a year and believe me, people are still eating at my house.I have tons of cookbooks. So a recipe turns me off? There are other recipes.

    We should not be too full of ourselves.

  • Dana McCauley

    I think Severson’s description is apt. There absolutely is a point where the benefit of the effort is not realized in the end result or where the effort diminishes your enjoyment in the final product.

    I’m a chef who is married to a very well regarded restaurateur/chef and we generally feel confident tackling any recipe. That said, I see chef preparations and efforts that I deem over wrought all the time.

    I can’t speak to Thomas Keller’s cooking but a good example that pops to mind is the episode of Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection TV show where he makes Peking Duck by removing skinning the bird, sewing it to a cooling rack and then ladling hot fat over the skin to make it crispy. I love crispy duck skin but life is just too freakin’ short for that nonsense.

  • Amy

    I have to agree w/ Savannah and Amber.

    However if one has a passion to cook…a passion to learn and practice new skills….How can that not make you (or anyone that matter) a cook?

    With those traits above…I would certainly hope that wouldn’t make the home cook “not” a cook much less a “shoemaker”.

  • Tim M

    This is an interesting debate. I don’t think “cooking” makes one a “cook”, nor does having a Viking range or all the latest kitchen gadgets. A cook–to me–is someone who enjoys the act of cooking, someone who has a passion for making great (or at least trying to make great) food. I use recipes as a learning tool, but they are never written in stone. They help me learn how to make a new dish or learn a new technique. However, when I make a dish from a recipe, I often have to make adjustments to ingredients. When I try something new, I take notes on what I did and how to improve it next time.

    Not everyone enjoys cooking. My wife’s idea of cooking is boiling water or heating a frozen dinner. She doesn’t understand why I enjoy anything more complicated than that. To her, chopping vegetables is a chore. To me it is relaxing and fun. When I decided to make gnocchi she couldn’t understand it. We had a bag of frozen gnocchi in the freezer! Why should I go through all that trouble? After she had it, she changed her mind.

    Cooking doesn’t have to be a chore, but it also doesn’t have to be complicated. There is a subtle difference between simple cooking and dumbed down cooking.

  • frenchtart

    this reminds me of something my neighbor told me the other day: “I don’t like Emeril’s recipes because he uses too many ingredients”. to which i replied, “Huh?”.

    she also adores Rachael Ray. which explains a lot.

  • ErikaK

    Wow, some great comments.
    I thought the article was amusing as well. I like Maya’s comparison because I can relate to it. I love music, I have a MA in music, but chose not to pursue professionally. I play in community groups, so don’t get paid. I don’t practice as much as I should. But I’m still a musician.
    I love to cook and consider myself a cook. I cook for family and friends, so don’t get paid. I don’t practice as much as I should. But I am still a cook.
    Really the only deal breakers for me are things I don’t like that I have tried. Like tripe. Or the other deal breaker, the other people in my home that have to eat it. I would love to make cassoulet, but my husband is allergic to white beans. It’s not that I don’t want to spend 3 days making it, it’s that I don’t want to spend the next 3 weeks eating it by myself! The fact is, there is enough information out there (books, TV, websites) to be able to move from the “Betty Crocker home cook” to making artisanal bread and “restaurant cookbook” meals at home. It is all there for the cooks who want to practice.

  • milo

    Dangit, the website ate my post. I guess I’ll do the short version.

    That article seems pretty valid to me, some recipes are fussier than people are willing to do, most people have a limit of what they’re willing to do, and I think Pardus is being a bit overly sensitive.

    Arguing about who gets to call themselves a cook is just semantics and comes off as snobby.

    There is validity in both the no compromise version of a recipe and the version that takes shortcuts but still turns out good. It’s great that chefs publish recipes just like the restaurant, but they shouldn’t be surprised when people reject them for simpler alternatives.

  • Ann

    everyone…i am online far too much today…first SE and the wine/server fussiness and now MR and this current debate…learning to cook correctly with proper techniques and ingredients definitely makes one a good cook…but society and especially Americans (i am one) are LAZY…not afraid to type it…(and older cooks in the south would call someone a lazy cook in a minute, because it’s so obvious) everyone wants easy and fast to look at a complex recipe and pooh, pooh it is just laziness to me…there are choices…to cook it or not…shortcuts are not for me and this is how i have taught my daughter to cook…i learned to cook from the old southern guard (mother, grandmother, great-grandmother) and there are no shortcuts, just great complex recipes…that only require a lot of love and attention to detail…

  • Maya

    Erika K brings up a good point, saying how she plays music in a community group. My Native American friends tell stories and sing songs passed down through the generations. They don’t obsess over who gets credit for writing the songs. Nobody should “own” a recipe. It’s like copyrighting food items.

    I was told that some native tribal folk play music and it is unbecoming to stand out as a “better” musician. All music players are supposed to compliment each other.

    I totally agree with Ruhlman about not “dumbing down” food. But again, what does that mean? To me it means mostly inauthenitc, canned ingredients. Pre-made.

    Either Tom Collichio or Anthony Bourdain said that (roughly translated) “Cooking is about pleasure and making people happy”. Well then, it should be a communal effort and great cooks should be willing to share.

    Local, fresh ingredients should be the basis for what we cook because they are healthy and delicious. The recipies will change over time depending on who’s cooking them, the home cook, restaurant cook, or whoever.

  • milo

    Just to play devil’s advocate…

    If someone makes a meal without proper techniques and ingredients, and it ends up tasting just as good as the version made with proper techniques and ingredients, is the person any less of a good cook?

    To put it in even more crass terms, if person A makes brownies from scratch using the best ingredients, and person B opens a box of Duncan Hines, can you really fault person B?

    Michael, I’m curious, do you ever serve pasta with sauce from a jar to your family? I assume you must at least use dried pasta instead of making it fresh every time?

  • sygyzy

    I could have sworn that I read that The French Laundry Cookbook’s recipes are “dumbed down” and adapted for the home cook. In fact, I am quite sure this is the case. I know for sure that (the upcoming) Alinea book is staying true to form.

  • Badger

    I’m always quick to identify myself as a HOME cook, because there is no way in the world I’m in the same league as the professionals (nor do I WANT to be, frankly — I’d last two SECONDS on the line, if that).

    The main reason I cook, beyond the no-brainer of having kids to feed, is because I love to eat. I am passionate about food, and I want what I cook to taste good above all else. I try to respect my ingredients by preparing whole, fresh, good-quality foods, but I don’t give a frack about technique except as a means to an end (the end being TASTE).

    Michael, you mentioned “cook smarter, not faster” and I agree, but I think you have to kind of ease the non-professionals into that a bit (speaking as an enthusiastic non-professional myself). Make it easy FIRST, then add in the smart bits. Food Network may pull people in, but eventually, one hopes, they’ll be ready to graduate from that and that’s where some of these cookbooks come in. I am never going to prepare anything from The French Laundry cookbook but I LOVE reading it. It inspires me, even if I’m not following the techniques and recipes exactly. (And I’m sure as hell not going to bitch that the recipes are too complicated for a home cook; I’ll just take what I want from them and quietly pass over the rest.)

  • Chennette

    Half that article is about individual fears and phobias. Nothing really to do with the recipe generally. People shying away from a recipe because it involves exact timing? What kind of “good” cooks are they?
    I like where she mentions her friend and the wild boar and the recipes from Coyote Cafe: “They went unmade until her cooking skills improved and she had an epiphany: she could substitute.” Good thing her friend didn’t throw out the cookbook! There is still value in a “fussy” recipe if it can inspire, or educate, or help you improve your skills to the point where you can face the recipe head on and determine how obedient you want to be. Knowing, of course, that you won’t get the end result as depicted in the recipe.

    Are these the same people who complain when a chef’s recipe doesn’t yield the restaurant results? Once you decide you want that particular result, you can’t whine about the steps.

    I enjoy learning about the processes skilled and trained cooks use, whether or not I feel up to following it. And it’s not just professionals who have intricate recipes. There are some traditional recipes made by home cooks that have tonnes of steps, and individual cooking of components, made over several days. I can think of some Indian sweets like that. And still I’d dig in and make them with my mother, because there’s no way I’d accept a cardboard substitute.

  • Chris Walker

    See, I always thought it was okay to call yourself a cook, regardless of skill level, as long as you didn’t call yourself a chef. A chef being a professional, accredited (in some shape or form) craftsman, while a cook being anyone who, well, cooks with some kind of regularity.

    Pardus comes across rather vicious, but I’m sure his comments were made in the heat of the moment.

  • latenac

    I have always sort of preferred cook vs. chef. My husband who teaches choral music says he can teach anyone to sing. Anyone. But you need to be born with a certain something to be able to take it from merely learning to sing to the next level. In his teaching he doesn’t focus on trying to create geniuses he focuses on getting everyone to sing.

    You don’t buy a chef’s cookbook to learn how to cook you buy it to have insight into that genius. For some it will be merely food porn for others it will be a means of inspiring.

    If you need to learn to cook then you need to find the cookbooks that have the “everyone can cook” approach rather than the “insight into genius” approach. And hopefully you find the ones that teach technique, the basics and how actually to cook and read a recipe than a book that’s simply “500 meals in 30 minutes or less.” or other such “shortcut” approaches.

    Articles like Severson’s merely perpetuate the idea that cooking is hard and very time consuming and the average person can’t do it b/c cookbooks ask you to do things no home cook should ever have to do. I’d like to think chefs aren’t like the Japanese when it comes to learning their language – flattered that you would try but extremely satisfied when you fail.

  • carri

    Carl Sagan once said “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” which proves the point you can look at it however you want, but there’s no way to reduce a dish to it’s most basic elements unless you truly start at the beginning…impossible at best! Chefs like Thomas Keller and writers like our Mr. Ruhlman do their best to take us as far they can down that road…we have to choose for ourselves where to stop along the path. The French Laundry Cookbook has, at times, both delighted (with it’s beauty and integrity) and infuriated me (with it’s highbrow nature) but it is an honest potrayal of one man’s culinary vision. I’ve only gotten as far as the garden of the restaurant, but having the cookbook is like having a part of Chef Keller himself!
    Also,it is important to remember that recipes are merely a combination of a formula and a method…once you have the method understood, the formula is often open to personal interpretation.

  • ruhlman

    i love the bouchon cookbook too, thanks for mentioning it–really solid delicious recipes, thanks to Susie Heller who wrote and tested them all, along with the chefs.

    Badger–make the gazpacho that’s in the french laundry cookbook.

    and chris, yes, pardus did make the remarks in the heat of the moment. in fact he was going to post them but then sent to me in an email. i posted them, with his permission. here is his follow up email:

    “I TOLD you it was gonna piss people off…, do I have to weigh in and tell everyone the “back-story” about how intentionally DID NOT post it, but sent it to you to decide, because I KNEW it was inflammatory? Are we elitist for having the discussion at all, or for having it in public?

    “But, I’m ok being an elitist….and yes, all I’m looking for is a qualifier – “I’m a good home cook” is fine, and very different from “I’m a cook”…and I should have said “refuses to butterfly an anchovy”….and yes, not knowing how to do something properly disqualifies you from assuming the title of someone who does….that’s why you will never hear me call myself a carpenter…and if I ever do,any competent carpenter is welcomed to call me on it.”

    Frankly, all these great comments are far more valuable than anything I or Pardus could say. thanks.

  • sheila

    I am a home cook, taught by old German and Italian ladies as a very young child, self-taught in my twenties with the help of Julia Child. While I was at home as a young mother I entertained a lot and mastered elaborate baking techniques – no boxed foods or bought bread ever darkened my door, and I made my own stocks and so on. But now I work long hours and while I would love to cook like Keller I know I don’t have time. I still put simple, healthy and well-made meals on the table each evening, using the techniques I have practiced for nearly 50 years. I have never butterflied an anchovy but I bet I could if I needed to.

    I read Keller like I read books on bonsai technique (another passion I don’t have time for) or lacemaking (ditto) – for information and inspiration, for the knowledge that others have taken techniques I know to a level I haven’t been to but might someday.

    I believe in craft and care in mastering it, and in respect for the materials and tools of that craft. Not all of us practice the craft of cooking at the same level, or can or ever will. But anyone who respects food, is thoughtful about choosing it and careful about preparing it, is a cook.

  • Kay

    I’ve never butterflied an anchovy, but I’m fairly confidant that if one were to show me what the end product was meant to look like I would be able to emulate it in fewer than 3 attempts. I’ve never called myself a cook, but which is really the more valuable skill in the kitchen, butterflying or learning?

  • Charlotte

    I love this discussion. I love to cook, but what I want to cook at home is home food — my area of interest shall we say, is what people eat at home, not restaurant food. The Laurie Colwin school of food and cooking, if it needs a name. I love a great restaurant meal, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not what I want to serve to my friends and loved ones. I want to make them something simple and delicious that signifies family food. When I travel, I want to see what’s in the markets and what people eat at family dinner. My skills are okay, but I dated a couple of chefs when I was in my 20s and what they do is completely different than what I do — I don’t think the one cancels the other out, I just think they’re different in kind.

  • AZ

    Several points, since I think everyone in this piece is somewhat misguided.

    First, I think that the terms Pardus used to describe amateur and home cooks here go too far; it’s correct to identify non-professionals and those who do set pragmatic limits on their horizons, but the characterization shouldn’t be negative, unlike his chosen selection of “qualifiers” (weekend warrior is pretty much OK though). Understanding differing levels of commitment to cooking is one thing, snobbery is another, and snobbery drives a wedge between the people who can help and the people who may want help in evolving their cooking skills.

    Second, as an owner of The French Laundry Cookbook, who has never fully followed a recipe in there due to “fussiness”, the book has still had tremendous value to me as an aspirational piece. Works of that sort show the tools and techniques of refinement and have helped me discover and experiment with different taste and texture combinations. There’s more to a recipe than the exact input and output, and the article fails to recognize this.

  • Cameron S

    I don’t really understand the fuss about what Pardus’ said at all. The NYT article misses the mark I think on how there are different types of cookbooks and some require more learning to understand and unlock.

    I prefer to buy various types of cookbooks – some are complicated, some are simple and obviously aimed at the home cook.

    As a home cook who has never met a challenge that I can’t figure out, I have enjoyed making approximately 10 or so recipes out of the French Laundry book. I even did the veal stock which is now a standard element of my freezer compartment.

    I don’t think complicated recipes are bad, neither are they an affront to my home cook sensibilities – if they are beyond my skill level I take that as an opportunity to learn something new. Or I use them as an aspirational exercise. I don’t think of them as fussy at all. That’s a poorly chosen word.

  • maria

    Maybe I’m a bit off-topic, but on Top Chef a lot of the TRAINED chefs did not know how to butcher. Some have never made mayo. But, boy are we hard on home cooks!

  • mirinblue

    Well, it seems as if we are splitting hairs again on this blog.

    Am I a cook? YOU BET! A professional? No.
    Can I filet an anchovy? I certainly can (and often do).

    Do I use canned San Marzano tomatoes instead of putting up my own? Absolutely!

    Do I occasionally read 4 or 5 recipes for a dish and them compile the best (IMO) from each to construct the dish as it fits into my kitchen/skills/equipment range? Most certainly!

    Call me what you will..I am content in my kitchen.

  • mich

    I’m a classically trained orchestral musician, who frequently performs and do make a small part of my income with both teaching and performing. Rarely am I offended by someone’s choice to call themselves a musician. Their musicianship (or lack thereof) doesn’t make me any less of a musician.

    Likewise, if my sister who can barely boil water, calls herself a cook, she’s not lessening anyone’s else kitchen talents. BUT she can’t really criticize someone else’s recipes for being too hard or too complicated nor can she criticize someone’s kitchen skills. About all she can say is that she doesn’t like the taste of the food.

    Unfortunately most Americans don’t get that BUT. We all think we can do anything and therefore have the right to criticize everything. Using Pardus’ example, how much property is damaged or people injured each year when people try to do carpentry work, plumbing, or other home improvements without the proper tools and skills? Rarely do they blame themselves for the destruction. Why should it be any different for cooking? If a recipe is beyond you, it’s the chef’s fault for writing something too hard.

    The problem worsens when so-called experts publicly pass judgment. Would most of this post even exist if Severson had simply said that the FLC was full of recipes that the average home cook couldn’t attempt due to lack of equipment, training or ingredients?

    I’ve never butterflied an anchovy and I choose to buy my veal and beef stock from a local organic butcher. But I’ve done CIA boot camp. I will take that purchased veal stock and go through the entire lengthy process of making a Sauce Robert that causes friends to lick their plates. And even though I’ll probably never actually make one, I’m going to study every recipe in Grant Atchez’s Alinea cookbook when its released.

    Am I a cook?

  • Debbie

    This type of debate make me long for the old days when mom would just whip out a frozen dinner and say, “I’m not cooking tonight.” No ambiguity there.

    I aspire to be a better home cook than I am but any professional could kick my ass everyday and twice on the weekends.

  • Eric

    I see both sides of the discussion: I have the pleasure of knowing some great line cooks/chef-restaranteurs here in Portland, OR, and understand Pardus’ passion. I also understand some of the examples given from the Severson article, yet some of them were eye-rollers.
    Bottom line: you can’t be afraid to fail a few times, if becomming a better cook is your goal, no matter what level you want to achieve – it’s similar to learning how to ride a bicycle. You need to master the technique of balance and proper speed to maintain that balance, and so it is with cooking.

    That seems to me, is what Ruhlman is saying.

  • marlene

    I said this once elsewhere,

    my thoughts are that every home cook should know the basics. It’s what we do with or how we expand on those basics that develops our own cooking style. For example, lets take the difference between making Keller’s Boeuf Bourguignonne and Bourdain’s.

    To make it Keller’s way is to learn the little details that make a dish fabulous. To make it Tony’s way, is to have fun and have a great dish in a relatively short period of time. Keller’s takes three days to make, Tony’s takes 3 hours. Do they taste different? Sure they do, but not enough that the average home cook is going to notice, nor are the guests of the average home cook. So I made it once Keller’s way so I could stretch myself as a cook, learn technique and to see for myself what the different nuances would be, but if I were making it just for us for dinner, I’d probably do it Tony’s way. It’s all about where you want to go in the kitchen, and how you want to develop your style. I cook from Bouchon, not because it’s easy, (we all know its not), but because when you cook Keller’s way, I learn something every time and improve my skills.

    I like to understand the “why” of doing things a certain way. When we get to the “why” things cook the way they do, or why they react in a certain way to certain ingredients, then we gain confidence as home cooks to begin to experiment, to take a recipe and make our own substitutions or to wing it totally, because you understand now how certain flavours go together. Or why foods react in certain ways to different ingredients, such as adding vinegar to poached eggs to help coagulate them. 🙂 Take the simple vinaigrette By winging it the first time, I broke it – and learned how to fix it. I also learned how to adjust by taste rather than just put ingredients in because the recipe says so. I learned that a little cayenne would take the edge off. Now I have a basic board from which to spring, so to speak. The places I can take a vinaigrette now are almost endless because I know the basics.

    Most of us are never going to work in a professional kitchen. So I define myself as a home cooks, who has a passion and enthusiasm for cooking. Some people just want to put food on the table at dinner, some of us what to excel at what we put on the table at dinner. Maybe the right question is to ask ourselves why we cook. Well, we all like to eat 😀 but so do lots of people who never bother to learn how to cook. For me, cooking is not only a passion, but a form of relaxation and of fun. It is also an expression of caring. I cook because its as close as I can get to sharing a piece of myself with family and friends. When I offer them something I’ve made, I’m offering them a part of me. If that makes any sense. It’s caring enough to give them the best I can offer. And caring enough to be willing to take the time to make it so. During my brother’s illness, I cooked for him, because that was the best way I knew to care for him and support him. That’s it for me in a nutshell. Your milage may vary. 🙂

    Someone wise recently said to me:
    only when we know good can we begin to inch up to excellent.

    This was a long winded way of saying that the cookbooks like French Laundry or Bouchon aren’t too hard, if that’s what interests you.

    So I’m a home cook and happy to be one, but I am not a Cook.

  • Bob

    I prefer cookbooks with wild ingredients and sometimes arcane or obscure prep techniques – that are well explained and often have alternate suggestions. Hell… the entire reason I bought “Charcuterie” (both Ruhlman’s and Grigson’s) was to help fill in the blanks in other “wacko” recipe books that didn’t explain well how to do things like properly cooking a country pate in a bain marie.

    That being said, I still love my “wacko” recipe books – esp now that I’ve started to learn more about how to actually cook from them. I bought “The Whole Beast” 2 years ago… it took 20 months before I actually made something from it (if you don’t count the legendary green sauce). I bought that (and shortly after the “sequel”) and immediately picked up “Charcuterie” and “Meat” (hugh fearnsley-whittinsal?sp?) so that I could backfill my knowledge.

    Cookbooks that bug me more are ones that skimp so much on detail that you aren’t gonna be happy with the result no matter what. You have to go an an easter egg hunt to figure out what they omitted if you want to replicate that recipe. (Wanna hear a secret? David Burke throws a half cup of day old coffee into many of his brown sauces)

    Funny story… My brother’s first published recipe was in a California mushroom cookbook. He submitted two of his recipes – but gave the unabridged versions. That was almost 20 years ago… and reading them now makes me laugh. A wild mushroom soup recipe with 30 ingredients? That takes hours to complete? WITH CREME De MENTHE? The best mushroom soup recipe, by the way… stolen by numerous local restaurants… which is why he learned to never give away his secrets. (how could we tell? you can taste the creme de menthe if you know what you’re looking… uh… tasting for.

    Maybe that’s why some recipe books are obscure and nebulous as well… keep the haters from ripping your recipes…

    Hey Michael… what’s your favorite secret ingredient? Maybe the one that will explain why my hot dogs ala ruhlman always taste funky.

  • Chris Walker

    I like Pardus’ response to the responses.

    Are you elitist for having the conversation? Maybe. Is it a necessary conversation to have, with good intentions that yield good results and betterment for all of us: the cooks and aspiring cooks, the consumers, the craft of cooking and what it means to be a cook or chef? Absolutely.

  • Ulla

    When I first started reading this post I thought that I do not like complicated recipes and that but know I understand what you mean. I grew up learning to cook in my mother’s French kitchen where homemade stock and roux were taken for granted. Once you learn to make the basics correctly the sky is the limit. Good job on this post. I agree!

  • Steven Morehead

    I think an important part of this conversation that is that cooking is not an art. People have been comparing music and cooking and I don’t think they could be more different. Yes both professions have different styles that are personal preferences. I think good cooking is about making people happy, much like carpentry, no one wants to sit in an uncomfortable chair. On the other hand some parts of music are designed to make the consumer uncomfortable. It is acceptable in art to bend or break the rules in order to manipulate the consumer in a negative fashion, in cooking I don’t think it is. I agree that there are no bad artists because people are free to create however they chose, but there are bad cooks.

  • Bob

    Oh… I disagree… there are bad artists out there… I mean… what about Leroy Nieman?!

    Seriously, though… Cooks are allowed to create how ever they choose, its just that its still OK to say “Hey that sucks.” Whereas its not ok (at least in hippy-riffic SF CA) to say “Hey… that painting is contrived crap.” At least not without being called a meanie-charlatan.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I am a cookbook reader, in fact I am a reader over thirty years of copious magazines, cookbooks and food related articles and without exception the first rule of thumb is: read through the recipe from beginning to end and make your mise en place. After that, it is smooth sailing even for a lazy cook like me.

    But I do want to make a point and state that after having read Elements of Cooking, cooks of the level of Chef are so clearly more knowledgeable in the intimacies of ingredients, than I ever imagined, and to this I bow to you all, whose skill I pay for when enjoying a delicious meal in a restaurant, including the painstaking efforts of those who strive to reach each night and each dish and each pot of stock to perfection in the Professional kitchen. After finishing his book, it really hit home for this homnecook, that an exact dice is not in my nature,but to cook properly and for a living,it has to be in the nature of that cook. I loved the book and cannot imagine anyone not realizing the vast differences between the casual cook and the professional one.

  • Kate in the NW

    Since I brought up the painter thing, I’ll defend it:
    Roy Lichtenstein: very basic technique, still interesting art.
    Thomas Kincaid: complex technique resulting in utter crap.
    There is good art and bad art: there is good cooking and bad cooking. Technique is not always the ultimate arbiter of that particular judgement.

    I think cooking IS an art, if you adhere to a definition that sees art as an expression and demonstration of soul, passion, and our relationship to ourselves, each other, and the world. Not all good food is comfort food. Great cuisine (simple or complex) often takes us outside our comfort zones. Mol Gas is sometimes about making people uneasy rather than comfortable: like a lot of great art, it’s about questioning assumptions.

    Marlene, I loved your post. As some wise soul once said:
    “If you’re not screwing up on a regular basis, you’re not trying hard enough!”

  • mike pardus

    Hi, y’all…….It’s nice to see that things settled down a bit since Michael posted my comments on initial post.For those of you who are still pissed off at me, I owe an explanation.

    Being a cook is my identity, probably more so, even, than being a parent. If you ask “what do you do?” or “what ARE you?” I answer “I’m a cook” or, maybe, “I teach cooking”.

    I also drive a pick-up to work – that does not make me a “trucker”

    I have a garden, but I’m not a “farmer”

    I’ve published articles and co-authored books – and gotten PAID for it, but I’m not a “writer”

    I cook…at home, at work, when I’m on vacation or visiting friends. It’s what I do when I’m sad or lonely or happy and full of energy, and if I cook for you in my home or yours, it’s the best way I can express friendship and love.

    If I ask you “what do you do?”….what’s you’re first response?……if it’s “I’m a cook”, then you probably are.

  • Maya

    I can only speak for myself, but I did not ever mean (or say) that cooking is an art or is art. What I did mean is that music and cooking are best when they are communal. Traditional songs are best when they are passed down from generation to generation without notice of who wrote the song. These songs aren’t owned and like good recipes, they change over time and are fluid. (Not literally fluid, that would taste lousy….sorry.)

    As for art versus craft, I would choose the word “trade” because it is both practical (we have to eat, but we don’t have to paint or play music)and because it is something that I consider more of a “job” – on a ship out at sea, would you more likely pay a cook or a musician? I would pay the cook because I wouldn’t starve if the musician quit.

  • Steven Morehead

    If you look at the four tastes, which are the part of the language that cooks use to define the eating experience in western cooking, none of them are used in competent cooking to make the diner not feel enjoyment. A balanced dish has all four. Thomas Keller uses the phrase “the law of diminishing returns” in the French Laundry Cookbook to explain that balance is the key to good taste. Even things that are sour, salty, or bitter are enjoyable to eat. The lack of foods’ ability to be negative makes it different from art. Listen to Edward Grieg’s Funeral March. If you don’t cry you’re not human. Is there a comparable food? I only mean that they are different, not that one is better than the other.

  • sheila

    What a great discussion.

    Michael Pardus: if you asked me what I do, I would think a minute and then say that I make a home. All my life my core interest is in making my home a welcoming and comforting place for my family and friends. A major part of that is cooking for them. The amount of time I have to devote to cooking varies from time to time, but the food I serve is always the very best I can do. I’m a cook, I’m a gardener, I’m a party planner, a shoulder to lean on, right now the sole breadwinner. I’m a fair handyman as well. But all these are in service to living a good life myself and helping my dear ones do the same. Maybe it isn’t possible to isolate one thing I am. I’m a person, I try to live well.

    As to the art vs. craft debate, I work at a world class art school and we haven’t figured that one out yet to our satisfaction, so good luck!

  • Sues

    This is such a fantastic post. And had definitely made me realize my own personal flaws. Learning basic techniques helps everyone cook faster and better (and will allow you more recipes to choose from). How can you say you love doing something if you’re always looking for the short-cuts and the easy way to the finish line? To love means to want to learn everything, to become completely and totally immersed.

    By the way, Flaubert’s Parrot is my very favorite book. LOVE Julian Barnes!

  • luis

    Cooking is an individual journey. Believe me. You can cook for friends and family and they will tell you… this is crap and this has a funny taste and this is too spicy….. This is why they are friends and family. They can also tell you this is sublime. This dish rocks and best of all those left overs you were banking on brownbagging suddenly evaporize when the party is over and someone feels it’s ok time to feast on something they really really liked…
    Why tell anyone how they should cook? The chef police, Ms. Severson is some sort of chef police????
    Damm now that I know master Pardus is instructor of asian cuisine. I think he needs to chill… I wish you would ask him my burning question?…
    What are the rules that dictate the designing of vegetables and in what proportions when you cook a basic stir fry dish or anything veggie for that matter. What are the rules?

  • Steven Morehead

    Sorry, Maya we must have been typing at the same time, I didn’t read your post before. Is a life without art worth living though?

  • DJK

    I think the more apt parallel to cook vs. non-cook is writer vs. non-writer. Both work in mediums that can appear, probably to most, deceptively non-artistic, due to the necessity & omnipresence of both food preparation & consumption and verbal & written communication.

    I have often had thoughts similar to Pardus with regard to writers. No sane human being could possibly argue with a stitch of sincerity that William Gass and Danielle Steele do the same thing; yet both share the umbrella of “writer” and you’ll find their work in the same section of your neighborhood bookstore–the oh-so-nuanced “Fiction” section. It seems to me that if the Chinese can have 30 or so different ways to say “rice” that we can find a way to more appropriately categorize what it is that is done by two entirely different people with entirely different intentions.

    However, despite the fact that many people are deserving of his tone, Pardus didn’t do his argument any favors by choosing to condescend rather than merely distinguish.

    A reasonable solution, I would think, would be for chefs like Keller to call their books something other than cookbooks, because I’d guess that most people think of “cookbook” as essentially meaning “food instruction book,” and I’d imagine that Pardus, along with everyone else, likes his instruction books to be as simple as possible.

    (You might not be a carpenter, and you might call in a carpenter when you’re in need of carpentry, but for the ready-to-assemble piece of furniture that you’ve brought home in a box, for example–you telling me that you’d have the patience to read through The Basics of Furniture Making or anything else above & beyond Step 1: screw piece A into piece B, Step 2…etc?)

    Still, I can’t help but share Ruhlman’s sentiment that attitudes about cooking, like practically everything else in my opinion, are going (have gone? have always been? sadly, will always be?) too far in the direction of ABC-easy and straying too far from the pride of craftsmanship.

    Which leaves me with only one question: is “Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home” the kind of cookbook that harms the, um, person-who-prepares-food-in-a-domestic-setting? I hope not, because my girlfriend & I both really like it. 😉

  • luis

    Tonite I am good for quick back to backs… On the Thomas Keller FLC… Bravo Thomas. Your book and Michael’s is on my list to get.
    After Joyce Chen’s and Martin Yan’s and now waiting on MingTsai’s …books…Last week I did a brined chicken galantine.
    I planned to repeat again this week but time wasn’t on my side. So I brined and butterflyied and roasted the best chicken dish in the world. This happens to cooks that just don’t have the energy to go FLC mile.
    Either way would have been fabulous delish.
    The way I see it is that I completed an extremelly tasty dish and given the time and energy I could take it the extra steps. But far be it from me to put down haute cuisine done right. Hell time and energy…that’s all it takes.

  • mike pardus

    Luis, I don’t chill. I don’t tell you what to think or how to cook. Call yourself anything you want,if you’re comfortable calling yourself a cook in the company of other cooks and they accept that, then you’re a cook.
    I’m not a lot of things and I’m ok with that because I know what I AM.

    About Asian food, it’s too broad to codify simply and much is peasant based, so even within specific cultures there are few rules. It drives me crazy that even at the CIA, people will say – “we offer specialized classes in Italian, French, and Asian cooking”. As if Japanese food is the same as Thai, while France and Italy are thousands of miles and several religions apart.I humbly point out, to anyone who asks, that I love my job because I will never learn everything I need to even scratch the surface on all of Asia. What I know about Asian food would fill a very thin volume. I love Ruhlman to death, but when he calls me an “expert” on Asian food I cringe a bit. I’m not, I just know more about it than most Americans and can communicate it better in English than most Asians (who KNOW far more than I do).I wouldn’t even go so far as to call myself “an Asian Cook” without a diminishing qualifier. If pressed, the best an Asian Chef can get out of me is “I’m just a round eyed white guy trying to be what you are”.

  • Chris Walker

    “Call yourself anything you want, if you’re comfortable calling yourself a cook in the company of other cooks and they accept that, then you’re a cook.”

    I think that sums it up right there.

  • Vincent

    I just conquered the “Grilled Bacon and Cheese” recipe from the cookbook ‘Mom’s gone..WTF do I do now?’. Although terrified I attacked it full force with a small pan, wonder bread and the best processed cheese food I could find (thank you whole foods).

    Other than leaving the butter (i.e. something that looks like butter – its in a tub) out to soften like the recipe says it went well.

    I followed the instructions and I had a meal in the time it told me I would.

    It was like I was really cooking because I followed the recipe exactly.

    It was awesome.

  • luis

    Pardus, Thank you for “About Asian food, it’s too broad to codify simply and much is peasant based, so even within specific cultures there are few rules.”
    This is what my intuition and research tells me.

    YOur humbling comments regarding the flavors of Asian cooking do show you are a master or that at least you have been out there on the Asian cooking scene and have studied it.

    Bothers me folks think they are so smart and they have such control over flavor that they can make turkey taste like bacon etc… but they can not sit down and write a few simple rules about pairing the right type of vegetables in a simple dish.

    Tell you what, Food network,Iron Chef, Top Chef …smesh!!!! It would impress the hell out of me if someone had a set of rules for selecting and cooking a clean healthy sympatico vegetable dish. I have millions of recipes to follow and maybe there are no shortcuts to finding the level of understanding I seek.

    Vegetables are vegetables, but it seems to me that every Asian cuisine out there uses different techniques and condiments to give it its own identity. In that complex mosaic of flavors I think the “first layer” the bedrock of any dish is the selection of the vegetables and proteins. Get that combination wrong and the dish is screwed no matter what.

  • French Laundry at Home

    I understand where Kim was going with the piece; that said, the use of the word “fussy” is something I do take issue with.

    As someone who is cooking her way through The French Laundry Cookbook, I know I’m baised, but I don’t really find these recipes “fussy.” Why? Fussy, to me, implies that there’s something unnecessarily over-the-top or demanding that is being requested by someone who lacks expertise. And, that’s not the case with TFLCookbook.

    For me, it’s all about trust. If the chef/owner of 2 of the best restaurants in the land is recommending a certain way to do something to yield the best result, then damn skippy I’m gonna try it. I’m grateful for the book and its amazing sharing of technique and flavor combinations — I’ve gotten an incredible education from cooking my way through it. It’s cracked open so many “Oh, NOW I get it” moments that have changed the way I make a sandwich, pull together a last-minute salad dressing, or cook a steak. And, it’s actually made me smarter, faster, and more creative in the kitchen. Now, I can pull together a really great dinner for 6 in 20-30 minutes, and truly blow my friends away.

    I can’t tell you the number of emails I get from my readers who say that they thought the dishes in TFLC were too hard until they actually sat down, focused, and made one. It’s almost like it’s the world’s best-kept secret: these dishes are totally doable; you just have to pay attention to what you’re doing.

    I was actually more offended by many of the commenters on the article on the NYT site. Chopping parsley or whisking an egg are dealbreakers? What the fuck is wrong with people?

  • Michael Booth

    Sorry for arriving late to this thread, but pleased to hear people voicing a frustration with the food media’s relentless simplification of recipes and cooking which, I suspect, is the reason people quit recipes so easily. Where are the TV shows and books for people who actually want to spend time cooking? Michael’s elegant ghosting of Thomas Keller’s recipes is a testament to how it should be done, but the reality in the majority of cases is that recipe writers either don’t test their recipes properly or are pressurised by publishers/producers in to skipping key elements for the sake of less daunting brevity which is why a good proportion of recipes plain old don’t work. I wrote something on this for the Independent in the UK a while back which might be of interest here:

  • ruhlman

    Michael: thanks for the comment and for linking to your article which I look forward to reading. I didn’t know about your book! Sacre Cordon Bleu: What the French Know About Cooking. Good luck with it. Hope it gets published over here.

    I’m grateful for your words but must correct one thing. While I wrote the text of the FLC with Keller, Susie Heller wrote and tested the recipes–a heroic job as far as I’m concerned and she rarely gets enough credit.

  • Russ H

    I know when I’m trying a new technique or skill, I DON’T WANT it dumbed down for me. I want to learn the real deal. Now, I’m fortunate because my brother is a professional chef (and CIA grad) so I always have a go-to guy when I need a hand some information or advice. Still, I just call myself a home-cook, and I ALWAYS preface it with HOME.

    Mainly because I don’t want Bourdain to show up and beat the crap out of me.

  • mike pardus

    To Carol Blymire: –

    “Chopping parsley or whisking an egg are dealbreakers? What the fuck is wrong with people?”

    I think I like you a lot, can I buy you a drink?…

  • e. nassar

    I am not as eloquent as you are Michael or as Carol, so I’ll phrase it this way:
    There are people who love to cook and there are those who think they do. For the first group, no well written recipe is too fussy or a ‘deal breaker’. The second group needs to find another hobby.

  • Harry

    Having read all the posts, a number of thoughts occur to me.

    1. I’m very pleased that both Michael Ruhlman and Mike Pardus (what is the polite way to refer to someone of status whom you don’t know, who’s in the conversation? first names seem a bit informal) are participating in the conversation. It helps to keep it a real conversation and not a gripe fest or shouting match.

    2. I wonder if there’d be the same outrage if Mike Pardus used the word “chef” rather than “cook”? When running that thought experiment in my head, I come up with the answer “no.” Which makes it more of a semantic issue rather than a substantive one. Another thought experiment is what if Mike Pardus had chosen to say that the modifier should apply to him, as a “professional cook”? As I point out in #5, some of the aspects of being a professional cook are simply different – not better or worse – than being an accomplished home cook.

    3. Mike Pardus has a substantive point, that there are different levels of skills and interest. I have no problem with that. I’m less happy with the elitism implicit in his analogies. As a football fan I am aware that the term “armchair quarterback” is a pejorative one. Was that intentional, I wonder?

    4. I like the analogy of cooking to art. It works on a lot of levels, including differing preferences, disagreement on what it is, elitism, snobbery, and the inclination of many to change/embroider on a theme.

    5. I am a cook. If asked, I’d say home cook – I take shortcuts if pressed for time, I don’t care of my matchsticks are exactly the same (matchstick carrots were the bane of my knife skills tests in cooking school), and I can change or play with the recipe I’m working with at will – I don’t need the same recipe to come out the same way each time. In other words, I don’t need to adhere to the standardized, production line, no changes allowed standards of a professional kitchen. Doing that at home is boring, doing that at a restaurant is death for the restaurant.

    OTOH, I think about food and cooking all the time. I think about what to cook for dinner. I think about how to use that odd thing I bought recently. I think about how to make time for the obscure, time-consuming recipe I want to try. To me this is the difference between “I do X” and “I am X.”

    6. There’s a good place for (almost all) levels of cookbook. The basic technique books. The highly simplified books that use lots of frozen ingredients – that’s what any number of cooks I know started with. The books that cover all fundamental, but not necessarily simple, techniques. The books that help you get dinner together because quick home cooked is probably better/better for you than Swanson’s. The doorstop compendia of recipes. The food porn, the aspirational, the special event, the “I want to spend the day making something extraordinary.” Just because I don’t use the highly simplified any more doesn’t mean they should be banned from the market.

    7. Carol Blymire writes “Chopping parsley or whisking an egg are dealbreakers? What the fuck is wrong with people?” Dear god, yes.

  • Jason

    It just drives me crazy compare thier own limitiations to others and then call it elitism. Most of the excuses I’ve read are just self-doubt, laziness, or ignorance…”oh I can’t think 36 hours ahead, Braising is such an involved process. One guy complained he didn’t know what a cornichon is and neither did anyone at the store…did he look it up on the internet? No, he just gave up.

    Kellers recipes aren’t fussy, they are detailed and exact. The great artists of world are just that because they pay attention and can elevate thier art with the details they discover. Was Michealangelo fussy?

    I work and attend school full time and my wife is a doctorate student, we pull in around 35,000 a year living in SW Ohio and after adjusting the recipes for two people, have no problems affording or finding the majority of the ingredients needed for a French Laundry recipe.

    You can do it if you want to.

  • mike pardus

    Harry – “mike” is fine with me.

    You said – As a football fan I am aware that the term “armchair quarterback” is a pejorative one. Was that intentional, I wonder?”

    My response:
    I do apologize for using a term that is not close to me and – consequently – being pejorative. I don’t watch much football, so the term did not register as negative until after the post.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Mr. Mike Pardus, I have read all your comments and agree with you…after all i have read it seems to me that Chefs/Cooks identify themselves with what they do for a living – they ‘are’ what they ‘do’ more so than any other profession. I wonder why: the hours are the same for any lawyer i know and even my own hubby can work a 12 hour day between office and home….but above all professions, the cook’s human identity always seems to gets lost,,,,i would love an explanation on that kind of head space altho i think i do understand why, it must be a problem when it comes to your family unit?

    Michael, i have been a recipe tester for many a cookbook here in Montreal; so when you put out some recipes I am supposing this is your ‘way’ of getting your readers to try them out and to hopefully get feedback. If I am wrong, I apologize, but certainly feedback whether it be positive or negative is good…so when I told u about my popovers it was not to criticize but I had hoped you would use this information, not ignore it; and perhaps describe where I went wrong. I’m assuming this new cookboook you hope is for the masses to purchase, no?

  • Tags

    Who’s more fussy –

    chefs or cooks who assiduously prepare food because their reputation is on the line, or folks who discard a recipe because they don’t like a certain technique?

  • hollerhither

    Late to the party, again, but Harry, I agree with your #2.

    When you get into a semantic argument, usually someone drags out a dictionary. Mine states a cook is “a person who prepares food for eating.” A chef is “a skilled cook who manages the kitchen.” “Chef” does imply a professional level of skill that not just anyone can have.

    Mr. Pardus, my dictionary doesn’t support, and I don’t agree with your premise that you are somehow more entitled than others to appropriate the term “cook.” I would not disagree, however, on your rights to “chef.” Although I do not call myself “a cook” — I say I “love to cook” — your elitism makes me queasy. I’m sad to see such contempt, particularly from someone who is an educator.

    Few, perhaps no one, would dispute that it takes special skills to cook professionally — and that some professional AND home cooks are more skilled than others (would that I had the moxie and skills to cook like Ms. Blymire!). But I hate the idea that those who enjoy exploring recipes and preparing food at home should be made to feel inadequate because their abilities and knowledge don’t match up with those of a professional. If someone strives, takes pride in his work, and delights his family, friends, and guests, why can’t he call himself a cook? Or a home cook? Who does that hurt?

  • The Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet

    I’m a technique girl and I try to learn the best techniques in the kitchen. I make my own stock, mayo, whatever I can. I read my Ruhlman. I try to conquer the Elements.

    And I am also a fan of Carol’s, but I gotta admit that when I read, “What the fuck is wrong with people?” I thought that the foodies had finally turned on me.

    I have some deal breakers. Sue me. If I didn’t we (my husband and 2 kids, ages 3 and 1) would never eat. Here’s one – If I can’t breastfeed while doing it, and I can breastfeed and do almost anything, I don’t do it. (Wonder why Kim didn’t cover this in her article?)

    Seriously, sometimes my kitchen is so crazy that getting a fantastic-tasting dinner out and getting the kids and their friends seated around the table at the same time without someone needing to go to the bathroom or someone else falling off the bench and hurting themselves or pulling pans off the fire to negotiate a sharing issue, that making it happen sometimes comes down to whether I chop the garlic into slivers by hand or whether I throw my hands in the air and reach for the jar of pre-cut garlic.

    I sense the foodies are shaking their heads in sorrow now.

    Still, I’m there at the farmers markets picking out the best organic vegetables and fruits and in the kitchen, cooking three meals a day from scratch, including a hot breakfast every morning and some pretty imaginative snacks for the kids twice a day. I try new techniques, dishes and flavors often. I read about food everyday. And at least 3 times a week we host dinner parties or pot lucks with different friends and neighbors, usually with a bunch more kids. Maybe all this wouldn’t happen if I didn’t have a few built in deal breakers to help me along.

    The way I see it, I’m living the cooking life.

    So, to the question: “What the fuck is wrong with people?” I say: “Not a thing.” We are having fun and not worrying about the parsley. We are making the kitchen fit our lives.

    That’s really not such an outrageous thing, is it?


  • Linda

    It seems to me that the more general question here has to do with the need for experts. I live in a rural area where the local joke is that anyone with a pickup truck, a dog and a baseball cap is a contractor. Unable to afford health insurance, many residents self-diagnose and medicate through vitamins and other supplements, including food. Some of these people do their work quite well; some do not. To add more examples, I know of good musicians who cannot read music well, as well as well-trained musicians and very naturally gifted musicians.

    The same seems to hold for cooking, for being a chef, for the use of food. When I acquired in my youth, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I carefully read the recipes and then thought I could breeze through them, skipping steps I deemed too difficult or leaving out ingredients I didn’t have. I learned my lesson quickly. I learned much more when I began to make European pastries, where following recipes led to a much deeper understanding of food chemistry.

    I aspire to be the best chef I can be, and given where I live and my lifestyle, that means self-taught. So, I work through cookbooks and books about food, I watch videos on technique, I study the chemistry of food, and after learning a new technique or whatever, I test myself by trying it. I think most great cooks follow a similar pattern. But to be really good, to be a Thomas Keller, now that takes diligence, knowledge, and persistance and it is what makes him such an expert. I admire that and I aspire to a similar degree of knowledge and expertise. But I also know I am limited by my environment.

    So in my little rural neck of the woods, I am a chef, and I’m proud of the food I serve in the little restaurant where I work.

    And Michael, my son always had dinner with his Dad and I, and I am so happy that we always took that time together. He’s now 22 yrs., and a family dinner is still a wonderful occasion.

  • French Laundry at Home

    Kim: Since your comment was directed toward mine, I’d like to address it, if that’s okay. No one is turning on anyone nor shaking their head in sorrow as far as I can see — certainly not me. I apologize if that’s how you took it. It wasn’t my intent.

    My WTF frustration is aimed toward the commenters on the NYT site. Food allergies and taste preferences aside, for someone to claim they simply won’t try a recipe because it involves something they’ve never tried before makes me sad and a little angry. Or, when people think one step is too difficult or anoying, so they skip it, and then wonder why the end result tasted like crap.

    To your comment, my frustration has nothing to do with judging people who have extra-busy schedules or are raising kids. There’s a time and a place for getting in and out of the kitchen as efficiently as possible — and you’re smack-dab in the middle of it. In fact, in a few hours, I’m off to see my brother and his wife and their newborn baby to help them figure out what kinds of foods/meals they can make over the coming year to accommodate the schedule of a newborn, breastfeeding, and the whole both-parents-working lifestyle. It’s a challenge, and I appreciate that, believe me.

    However, I’m guessing there will be a time in your life when the breastfeeding comes to an end, the kids get older, and you’ll have some more time for you — and I get the sense that you’re the kind of person who loves food, appreciates good ingredients, and who’s adventurous enough to try new things and see what happens in the kitchen, and that’s what I like about you. Dealbreakers change as life events change; I get that. I just wish more people were adventurous enough to push themselves out of their comfort zone and take a risk in the kitchen because I’m of the school of thought that the rewards extend beyond the stove.

    BTW, Kim and I exchanged emails about the article, and I confessed that I actually have a deal-breaker: slaughtering. Not to say that I will never do it, but for now, it’s not something I’m ready for, or feel the need to do.

  • sheila

    Hey, Kim, it doesn’t sound to me as if you really have dealbreakers – it’s one thing to say “I don’t have time today to peel and sliver garlic”; the dealbreaker comes when you say “I won’t make a recipe that requires me to prep garlic.” I bet there are times in your life when you do those time-consuming things and will do so again when your day isn’t so crowded.

  • Amy

    1) Carol Blymire writes “Chopping parsley or whisking an egg are dealbreakers? What the fuck is wrong with people?”

    I love that line. : P

    2) chefs or cooks who assiduously prepare food because their reputation is on the line, or folks who discard a recipe because they don’t like a certain technique?

    I honestly that comes down to the will to learn and the passion to cook.

    3) Like one of the commentors said…I learn from watching tv, obtaining cookbook, and learning on my own. Most home cooks are self taught – or taught by their parents, as I was fortunate enough to do.

    I myself, am fortunate enough to have time to myself to look over, take thought, look up anything that I do not know.

    We may all have different skills and levels but there is a difference between wanting to do something, and having to do something.

    If I do not know how to do something on a recipe I will find the means necessary. At my age (I’m only 26), I do not know many people who are willing to go as far in this…it’s unfortunate….and yes I apologize I am going off topic.

    And no, I do not go off Rachel Ray, or Sandra Lee. I have read Bourdain, I have Larousse Gastronomique etc, The Silver Spoon, etc…and I study…and learn.

    I try to be the best dang cook I can be…in all the ways possible…the less shortcuts th better.

    It is what it is….But the question is what you make of it.

    Anyways I feel like I’ve beaten this topic like a dead horse.

    That’s my input : p

  • Maura

    hollerhither, you took the words right out of my mouth. For convenience sake, I’ve called myself a home cook on occasion, but generally I just say “I love to cook”.

    I must disagree that someone who has a dealbreaker can’t be considered a cook. I have two: I’m not going to try something that requires a new piece of equipment (although I will try it if I can come up with a decent substitute. The lack of a full sized food processor hasn’t stopped me yet); and I won’t try a recipe that calls for a lot of ingredients that I don’t already have in the house. Neither of those is a matter of fear or laziness. It’s a matter of money, plain and simple.

    I was a little put off at first by Pardus’ comments, and I think he could have been more diplomatic, but I think I get where he’s coming from. Maybe it is a matter of semantics, and how one defines a cook. I don’t feel inadequate about my skills, because I don’t have to live up to the expectations that Pardus has to; and I don’t have the professional training he has. I have a damned good grasp of the essentials and the nuances required to cook well and to feed my husband, myself and my friends on a regular basis. If I have to compare myself to anyone, it’s not going to be Pardus, or Keller, or someone else at their level. It’s going to be my friends, all of whom love to cook, but somehow always end up having dinner at my house.

    I’ll back up Carole’s question “What the fuck is wrong with these people?” But seriously, if chopping parsley or whisking an egg is a dealbreaker for them, do you really want them cooking?

  • The Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet

    Carol –

    Thanks for the very thoughtful response. I know you weren’t trying to malign mothers or motherhood or any such thing. I just thought it might be important to take up the mantle of “parents who cook” since the occasion arose.

    Congratulations on the newest member of your family. What lovely news. BTW – Chef Keller, as I’m sure you know, does the best roast chicken ever and it is also the most simple (and “unfussy” – I couldn’t resist) to make. But it does involve trussing, which is NOT a deal breaker for me. I suggest adding it your “first year” menu.

    Thanks again for writing back!


  • mirinblue

    The more I read and reread this post, the worse I felt. And I couldn’t figure out why. And then it came to me…the use of labels again. I thought , maybe, we were rising above the need to classify people into certain groups, but evidently not.

    I wish the food community and all “cooks”, “home cooks”, “wanna-be-cooks”, the “don’t you dare call yourself a cook” cooks, “professional cooks” and “chefs” would come to the realization that we all share a common passion. Some may still be struggling to learn, some may be rising against the odds, some may stand haughtily (or not) at the top of the game. I say to those on top…bend over and reach out a hand for those stuggling on the way up.

    I think it bodes poorly when those who instruct, or teach, are so quick to draw the “who is and who isn’t” lines in the sand.

    And that is what saddens me.

  • Victoria

    OK, I haven’t read all the comments, but I have to take issue the premise that unless you have been trained in certain techniques you aren’t a cook. Huh? Generations of home cooks were not trained to do things “properly” but still turned out amazing, delicious, satisfying food. So they’re not really cooks?

  • Tags

    Nobody said that if you’re not trained, you’re not a cook.

    It’s not about training, it’s about desire.

    The dealbreakers are what cause these people to fold up like a cheap tent when they see something they’re afraid of. They’re spelunkers, not cooks, always looking for a new way to cave.

    Sandra Lee is the spelunker-in-chief. FOUR HOURS to cook veal bones on her “Chefography” profile.

  • Frances

    Just because we aren’t chefs doesn’t mean we have no business cooking. However, I have little patience for people who won’t read and follow directions (at least once). My quest is for consistantly good results, and that comes from have a good understanding of fundamental concepts. Unless you have an experienced and knowledgeable person hanging around who is willing to teach you, you pretty much have to look in a book.

    That said, after last night’s dinner, I told my husband to please pack his knives and go.

  • luis

    Holy crap Batman.. somebody stirred the pot on this one.! Good luck with it Michael/Pardus et all…
    I am currently researching some software that might answer some of these Mysterious questions…if I find it and find the time slice and work my behind raw…in the process, since you all are…well to put it in a friendly format.. awaiting answers to issues you thought you didn’t have!

  • dorkfest

    “Yes, I am.”

    “No you’re not!”

    “Am too!”

    “Well, I do this. . .”

    Sheesh. Seventh grade all over again.

    Get a life, people — including Ruhlman and Pardus. Pull your head out of the “food” sand and live and let live, okay?

    Aren’t there more worthy things to debate?