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”

  • Maura

    Tags said: “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.”

    So it’s all or nothing? I can’t agree. Forget justifying a dealbreaker by claiming it’s a money or logistical issue. What if someone doesn’t have a “desire” to make puff pastry from scratch, or to roast veal bones? What if there have been one too many failures, so they go on to something else? There’s a huge gap between Sandra Lee and Thomas Keller.

    Puff pastry scares me, which is precisely why I’m determined to learn how to make it from scratch. Semi-freddo seemed daunting, but I took it on and got it right. (Ice cream without an ice cream maker! No storage problems! It’s genius.) On the other hand, risotto, of all things, is my nemesis. I’m afraid my mother is going to take away my Italian card. Just thinking about trying it again gives me an anxiety attack. If I’ve folded, then so be it. I’m not going to feel unworthy because of it.

    The article that spawned this debate is about a conversation among people who cook at home. If a home cook can conquer absolutely everything at a level on par with Keller’s or Pardus’, I think that’s awesome. But it’s neither fair nor particularly generous to disparage someone’s ability because their skills and their desires aren’t at that level.

  • Shannon

    Some people like to cook and others find it to be a bore. The ones who are interested will more likely want to challenge themselves with complicated instructions and deal with the “fussy” prepping.

    The ones who find it a bore will try to find the easiest means to an end if they cook at all.

    Simple as that.

    I’m probably somewhere in the middle where I will challenge myself to find the easiest way to make a meal taste as though I had to “fuss” my way through it.

    I can make an awesome roast chicken without taking the steps that Keller’s recipe or even Julia Child’s recipe requires for that matter.

    With 3 kids at my apron strings, why would I want to go through all of their steps if my one or two steps brings the same results?

    On the other hand, there may be a complicated technique that I’ll want to try and master.

    The only dealbreakers I have are long cooking times that require constant supervision and/or expensive ingredients. If it’s for a special occasion, I might splurge on the ingredients to make the meal that much more special.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I think of myself as an adventurous cook..with an affinity to asian foods including the time it took me 3 months to find bamboo sugar cane to make a vietnamese dish….but my deal breaker has always been lobster. That food I have always felt was better eaten in a restaurant until today…along with ming tsai and his step-by-step video I am currently sitting with three Quebec lobsters in my freezer just until they get ‘brain freeze’ and then kids I proudly say “today for the first time in life I am making live lobster”!

  • Amanda

    It’s funny. I came across that Times story while I was at school and I couldn’t help but compare the situation of home cooks avoiding certain recipes because of “dealbreakers” to my students who avoid doing homework because there are tasks that they are capable of completing but simply don’t want to do. In either case it’s unfortunate, because the opportunity to build skills and grow has been lost in favor of convenience.

  • luis

    Shannon, three little kids and you are cooking… lady you rock!!!!!!! I’d love to see some of our very beloved chefs here try your act. You are totally correct. last week I did a chicken that took me all day to brine debone(1 min) the filling and the stuffing and the tying and the roasting…all day. The clean up was spectacular… every damm dish in the house had to be cleaned. And the kitchen…mama mia!!!!!!!
    This week I brined it, seasoned, butterflied it and roasted it and the whole thing was lb for lb as tasty and delicious with the caramelized carrots and peppers(like candy) The extra steps are nice if you have the time. But your point is they are not necesesary to achieving delicious chicken. I totally agree with you on that point 1000%.
    Get the protein and veggies simpatico and you are 75% of the way to a great kick ass meal.
    I think we tend to forget who the super heroes in our society really are… Their name is seldom mentioned but their alias always starts with Mom!(why is that?)
    One thing that will put your two step chicken in the superstar chicken hall of fame is an accurate digital thermomether. Google Thermopen or some such thing… 100 bucks but worth every penny. AS Rhulman has posted HEAT is important and I will add you control HEAT by taking ACCURATE temperature readings.

  • Badger

    So the July 2008 issue of Food and Wine showed up in my mailbox today. It’s the Best New Chefs issue and features, according to the cover, “their EASIEST recipes” (emphasis mine). Because God knows, their most complicated recipes wouldn’t sell magazines. Collective sigh?

    Whatever, this home cook is making Koren Grieveson’s Tangy Roasted Chicken Thighs with Artichoke Panzanella sometime this week. And the bread will be homemade, though the recipe doesn’t call for it. (My deal breaker: kneading bread. Only because of a chronic pain/health issue, though. And fortunately my Kitchenaid Pro does a fabulous job of kneading.)

  • Maya

    Hi Steve –

    The internets ate my comment LOL 😉

    Speaking of trades, my mom is a French teacher, thus my interest in “semantics”. Just so you know. 😉

    As someone who loves creating all sorts of art, I could not live without it! But in my example, I meant to point out that cooking is a trade because we need food to survive and although aspiring artists often share art with strangers for free, most people cooking for large groups of strangers expect some sort of payment. Of course food can be “artful” or “crafted” a certain way, but I’d still call it a trade.

    Which to me is a compliment, because good, hand callousing work is far more admirable to me than dabbling around on some reality show.

  • Maya

    ps RE: not being able to follow fancy recipies, I’m just as much in awe as someone who can make a delicious poached egg or fried green tomato, recipe or no recipe. If it’s good, who cares if some famous chef’s cookbook is not followed?

    To me, food is only dumbed down if it’s canned or pre-made.

  • mike pardus

    Ducking back in for a few seconds….

    In re-reading this thread I find my name often linked with Thomas Keller’s. It might be because my initial comments referenced his cooking, or because I’m a pro.
    I just want everyone to know – especially those who know me – that I do not consider myself to be in the same league with Keller. We probably share things in common, but his level of talent, craftsmanship, and discipline outstrips mine many fold.

    I admire Carole Blymire for her endeavor…it’s inspiring and it would raise my own bar to follow suit.

  • Frances

    I have to say that for our first date, I had my husband over for dinner and served chicken. If he had refused to eat it because it hadn’t been trussed, there would have been no second date. In addition to that, he likely would have left minus a nut. Keller must have had some hellacious redeeming qualities. 😀

  • Scott Deane

    Is the target audience of the NYT article the amateur/home cook? It would seem so… why is the author citing Keller’s recipes? Or a recipe that calls for 2 cups of pig’s blood? How can you compare obtaining a geographically specific wild boar to trussing (or tusking, as Shoemaker refers to it) something?

    It sounds like the author wants to appeal to folks who are looking for short-cuts, quick recipes, and the like… that’s fine. I don’t think it’s fair to criticize convenient recipes (i.e. Rachel Ray et al) but it’s also unfair to criticize professional chefs when they share their recipes.

    If you’re reading a recipe in the hopes that it’s convenient, shortcuts and time savers are great. If you’re reading Keller’s cookbook, do you want watered down versions of his recipes?

  • Shannon

    Messing with Keller’s recipes is like messing with Shakespeare. You just don’t do it.

    I think a person has to realize the purpose of a cookbook and WHY it was written. Keller I’m sure wanted to give the French Laundry experience to those who can’t travel to or afford the experience fo his restaurant. So, the next “best” thing would be to make his food themselves. Plus, I’m sure he wanted to allow people to elevate and improve their cooking and step out of their comfort zones. Take a look at Carole sawing through a pig’s head, for instance, LOL.

    If I’m going to attempt to make his recipes, there can’t be any messing with the ingredients, otherwise, the experience wouldn’t be true.

    I’m sure if I were to look through his cookbook, there might be more than one deal breaker just because of convenience sake.

  • Benjamin Wolfe

    Let’s see; I make no claim to be a professional cook and I know that anyone in the industry can kick my rear up between my ears (in fact, it has been done – by my brother, who has spent a few years in the industry in various ways). I do claim marginal competence in a kitchen – in that what I make will be generally good (and if I bake, my lab will eat it whilst drooling into their keyboards).

    But back to the topic at hand – my issue right now with cookbooks and recipes in general isn’t a lack of skill or willingness, it is a necessity to be seriously frugal (I’ve just moved 1100 miles and have just started a new job). Does this mean that I can’t still watch interesting cooking shows wherein ingredients I cannot afford are used (or read culinary tomes where the same critique applies) – heavens, no. I will engage with any culinary materials which interest me – but I may not be able to do them, due to cost / time – but not a lack of willingness.

    Case in point; in perusing the Times’ archives online, I found the no-knead bread recipe from a few years back – and as I’m trying to save money on food and save money on gas, I decided to give it a crack – and it is notably good product. I’ve eaten better bread, but there is something to be said for doing things in-house and cheaply.

    In terms of the debate concerning chefs/not-chefs, I will self-classify as a non-chef, but as a civilian with chefly inclinations. I would say that anyone with a modicum of skill in the kitchen can gain a great deal by reading and internalizing the material in, say, the French Laundry cookbook, but even then, that would not make them a chef – merely a better cook. One can transition between the two – I’m currently being trained in a field related to my previous work, but a domain in which I am unexperienced – and I’ll eventually be considered a professional, but that takes time. In all things, one must be willing to learn.

  • luis

    Here is what it comes down to folks. We have superstars amongst us. Just like master Pardus acknowledged. Keller might just be one in three hundred million. I caught a minute of the French Open Nidal’s match while getting ready for work.
    Do I understand the game, yahhh. Can or could in my time hit out like him… darn tuting..
    But Nidal’s natural ability and training and discipline makes him a tennis Master amongst us. Basically I have his recipes down…But I can never execute them at his level. Never!.
    The reason we like to document and write books about what we do is to show future generations what we did and what we accomplished so they can appreciate there was once a Keller, a Nidal…. Dumb down NOTHING.
    I pity the fool that finds the FLC book inconvenient and fuzzy. It’s very difficult to get this out folks but understand just getting the basics out… such as making the ingredients simpatico and using the proper techniques and controlling the heat properly will yield results beyond your wildest dreams.
    Cooking is strictly an individual journey. At any level cooking can be fantastic. I may not be able to play a game at Nidal’s level but perhaps I could/can strike a ball.. one ball just like him. Nice to know the Nidal’s of the world are amongst us and very nice of them to write their recipes down for us.

  • Bob delGrosso

    If this post was a commercial whipped cream machine, it would be the most productive on the market. Currently, the most efficient whipped cream machines can turn 1 quart of heavy cream into 5 quarts of fluff.

    I think, however, that if a machine could be built to incorporate just half of the energy that Ruhlman unleashed to whip that throw-away piece by Severson into the confection of indignation that I see here, I don’t see any reason why efficiencies of 1:50 could not be achieved.

    And Mike Pardus, holy smokes, I’m sure you are laughing about this, but isn’t it kind of nuts that this kind of dialog is even possible?

    WTF would any serious cook worry if someone who may or may not actually like to cook complains that she won’t make a recipe because it’s too fussy/ difficult? I mean, she can always pay one of us to make it, no?

  • bonnibella

    “I must disagree that someone who has a dealbreaker can’t be considered a cook.”

    I cook to show off. And for the intellectual challenge of the endeavor. My dealbreakers depend on the day and the task at hand.

    I live alone. I travel a lot for my job. On the rare occasion that I actually am in my own kitchen, there are many times when I just don’t have the energy to gear up. So I keep it simple. As Ruhlman suggested, I grill a steak.

    When I have the time and energy (and money, as I believe Maura pointed out), I cook. For friends. I love to cook, and my friends love it when I invite them over. I don’t go out of my way to call myself a cook, but I don’t cringe when others do…even though I cannot filet an anchovy to save my life.

    I can, however, make whipped cream without the use of a commercial machine, although clearly not as productively.

  • Maura

    Bod del Grosso said: “WTF would any serious cook worry if someone who may or may not actually like to cook complains that she won’t make a recipe because it’s too fussy/ difficult? I mean, she can always pay one of us to make it, no?”

    Good question, Bob. When I first read the article, I thought it was just a fun, interesting piece. I always want to know what people absolutely have to have in the kitchen, how they shop, what they will not eat. Right now the question on my mind is Strawberry Shortcake: Is it only a dessert? Silly me.

    I mean, these are harmless questions, and that includes “What’s your dealbreaker?”. At most it should result in friendly disagreements, not attitude and vitriol. But once it hits the blogosphere, the gloves come off, and the question becomes bigger than it should be. I mean, we’re talking about food here, not global warming. And my own defensiveness on the subject is starting to make me feel both uncomfortable and stupid.

    Because I have *a lot* of time on my hands, I’ve been reading the comments to the article. This one is representative of what I find most sad:

    “I cringe at baking recipes with chocolate, butter and heavy cream; get a little creative! how could it possibly be anything but decadent; and deadly…”

    I would not want to have a meal with this person.

  • Claudia (cook eat FRET)

    any time that i have ever cut a corner on a recipe it has suffered. i always did it out of laziness and always paid the price in the end result. i still on occasion do this, recently ruining a “fried rice” dish. the taste was there but i blew the texture. like anything, it’s all a tradeoff. if you want to cook something of note, don’t cut a damn corner.

  • GaryC

    I am a cook. I have cooked with passion for over 30 years and strive to improve by craft everyday.I also grow vegetables. I am not a farmer. I make furniture. I am not a carpenter or cabinet maker. Simply cooking does not make you a cook. For many years I have proudly had the title of Chef,but who and what I am is a cook. Cooking is something we all must do to survive, but not something that every one enjoys or is passionate about. Those of us who are passionate about cooking love to share that passion. If you are not, and are simply feeding yourself out of necessity, it is fine to seek the path of least effort and there are thousands of open and heat cook books out there for you. Just don’t expect the true cooks who love to cook, to tell you that your on the same playing field by simplifying everything that they have spent their lives creating. Some people eat to live, some live to eat. The same is tue of cooking. If cooking is a chore, you may cook but you are not a cook.

  • vicente aseneta

    Dear Mr. Ruhlman:

    I enjoy your blog and books, but wanted to know your answer to one question: why is a (presumably) white person in charge of Asian Cuisine at CIA, and not an Asian person?

    While I’m aware people of all backgrounds prepare and cook many types of cuisine, some authenticity (right down to skin and culture) is sometimes, oftentimes, appreciated: especially when it comes down to something that spans generations, a culture, a people, a history, a country, and a continent.

    Thank you.

  • joe graffeo

    As a professional cook, and a friend of Mike Pardus I understand what he is trying to say.

    Ask any chef out good chef out there what they are, they will say “i’m just a cook”

    The difference between a cook and a home cook is anyone can cook, but most people don’t spend the time and put in the hours to understand what real cooking is.

    mike and i discussed this earlier tonight, being a cook is walking in on Friday /Saturday night pushing out 100+ people getting your ass kicked, working for 14-16 hours that day crashing coming back and doing it again the next day.

    A chef is a manager, a cook produces the food.
    anyone can cook, but only someone who devotes there life to learning everything they can about cooking is a cook.

  • luis

    GaryC, you may just be the right guy for my burning question. If you are so kind can you tell me how you combine vegetables in a dish? Do you have any rule of thumb thing you care to share? a starting point? a hint? whatever thanks in advance …

    On another track, NADAL took the french open. SUPASTARRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I honestly wasn’t trying to call it but the guy seemed AWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSOMMMEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! The whole FRENCH OPEN which I just LOVE! I watched a few games twice and was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of pure greatness…
    OH YEEEEEEEAH if KELLER is anything as good as NADAL… he is superstar!!!!!!!!!! FLC book is definitelly in my buy list.
    Right now I am searching for ingredients to check out Ming Tsai’s tea rubs for FISH!!!! he is another superstar giant in our own time.
    Waiting on his books as I type.

  • mike pardus

    Mr. Aseneta, I believe this is your post and your words:

    “Here’s a TRUE Master at work, using 99.9% indigenous conception, ingredients and execution, but elevating the language and making it his own, without claiming to be a pious, prissy and wannabe patrician of cuisine:

    Posted by: Vicente Aseneta, November 25, 2007 at 04:02 PM”

    Please consider the following:

    Cod – Indigenous to North Atlantic

    Ginger – Indigenous to East Asia

    Chili pepper – Indigenous to Central America

    Shittake – Indigenous to East Asia

    Pea sprouts – Indigenous to Western Asia

    Lemon Confit – Traditional Moroccan technique

    Nage – Traditional French technique

    Wondra flour – Industrial American manipulated convenience product.

    Eric Ripert – Expert cook, Caucasian, intimate with global ingredients, able to combine them and communicate his understanding to the untrained and inexperienced in a language they can understand…

  • luis

    Got to love that Roland Garros red clay….It’s not so much as high tech racket crap…(molecular gas shit! gadgets..) It’s all about substance! The French should NEVER mess with that!. It’s perfect..just perfect the way it is.

  • rockandroller

    I really think this taking back of the vernacular “cook” is unnecessary. I guess Joy of Cooking and all the other cookbooks in the world are improperly named since most of the people using them aren’t really “cooks?” Should it be called the “Joy of Creating Food Dishes From Scratch at Home for Amateurs?” “The French Chef Book for Home Food Experiments for Poseurs?”

  • Greg Turner

    I think a couple distinctions should have been made in the article and various responses. First, there is a big difference between can’t and won’t. If someone is unwilling to use butter in a recipe, then…well, they should be kicked from the kitchen. But if someone is allergic to wheat, I wouldn’t classify wheat as a deal breaker.

    I did marvel at people’s unwillingness to think about things, however. There’s a ton of equipment I don’t have in my kitchen, but I don’t let that stop me from attempting things. Perhaps my slices won’t be quite as thin, but the ingredients are still there. People should stop thinking about ways to escape recipes and think hard about different ways to enter them.

  • Claudia (the Original)

    Pardus (quote):
    “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”….

    OK, like I said – “a good HOME cook”, “home” being the qualifier. A MAJOR qualifier. Thanks, Chef Pardus. I wasn’t in anyway trying to imply that home cooks should consider themselves in your league of professional cooks, merely that a good number of us certainly cook well above Rachael Ray/Sandra Lee level – if not anywhere near Keller’s (!) And your post is not inflammatory – I think it merely provokes discussion (not ire).

    PS: And being “elitist” is your right, too – you should be more than OK with it. You put in the time and training to learn your craft, and I’d be equally annoyed at any amateur trying to claim the same level of expertise as myself if I were you. But I think your true annoyance is really with Severson, who SHOULD be mildly annoying to a professional such as yourself, because – however humorously,self-depreciatingly and (I HOPE) satirically – she has gone on record as saying she won’t do the simplest of techniques – fry, lard, truss, etc. Won’t use a whisk? Refuses to mince? Come ON! Those AREN’T “recipe breakers” – merely a refusal to employ the most basic of techniques – and for the person for whom they are “breakers”, then, no – they aren’t even a decent home cook. Open a can and “cook” with Sandra Lee, I say.

    But for the rest of us who do wrestle with mandolines, make our own demi-glace, dig pits for our own BBQ (okay, that didn’t happen – not fully. But the near-divorce did!) and only blanch when faced with sous vide-ing because an immersion circulator WOULD mean a divorce? Hey, we’re in there trying. We may lack the professional training (and certainly experience) but we care, passionately, and work on technique and read up and push our limits every day. And a box of Hamburger Helper has never graced our pantries.

    OK, that’s my “ruhlmanation” of the day . . .

  • mike pardus

    Thanks Claudia, really…that’s all I wanted.And I’d be happy to cook side by side with you and most of the rest of the gang here – at home.

    It’s 91 degrees in my “classroom” right now, class was 6 hours long and we just finished lunch service for about 50 (in 30 mimutes). The students are taking a break before they come back, clean up (wash pots and pans,scrub out the woks sweep and mop, take inventory) and have a lecture on SE Asian flavor profiles – in a 91 degree kitchen. We’ll sweat, but we’ll drink Tamarind juice sweetened with palm sugar and NOT ONE OF THEM will complain about the heat.

    I want that to be understood and respected – not for me, particularly, but for everyone who does this and trains for this and lives the life of “a cook”.

    I think your comment is a good note on which to drop this thread and pick up another….

    Thanks again for getting directly to the heart of it.

  • Culinary Sherpa

    I say we BURN THE WITCH!!!!!
    Oh, um, I mean…I disagree with her piont that Keller is fussy. He is the innovator of global cuisine, the next Escoffier. If his food were as easy as a brownie box mix, then why would he be revered as THE master chef. I feel Keller has priviledge all of us with allowing to read his recipes. To see HOW he creates. I don’t think he ever intended the majority to be able to re-create his art. I’m sure none of us could re-create the Sistine Chapel even had Michael Angelo left step-by-step instructions.

  • luis

    Pardus, hang around a bit won’t you! My God I got to see NADAL for less than twenty min…Tha whole damm tournament…fantastic!
    But Ming’s “Master Recipes is in tha HOUSE” life just doesn’t get any better than that. Awaiting that call from my doc…regarding my last ct-scan…. cheers!

  • Jen76

    I’d like to see anyone try to tell my Mother-in-law – an excellent cook who raised my husband’s family under the vise-grip of a communist dictator in Romania – that she’s not a cook because she can’t butterfly an anchovy. Please let me know how it goes.

    Try cooking a dish that can provide nutrition to your family of four when the store shelves are empty and the only food you have is some cornmeal, a few pieces of chicken you smuggled from the chicken processing plant where you work 12 hours a day/6 days per week, and the few vegetables you preserved yourself from Grandpa’s garden which provides vegetables for the entire extended family. That’s a real cook.

  • Claudia (the Original)


    I think Pardus pretty well wrapped it up with his last comment – he would be glad to cook with anyone of us (in a home kitchen). That includes your mom – a good HOME cook, anchovies notwithstanding. Just like the rest of us non-pros on the board. (Anchovies notwithstanding!)

    And thank you, Chef. I’d be glad to swelter, stoveside, with you in any kitchen any day. (Hope Skawt is still going to see you up in New Paltz/Poughkeepsie this month, like he threatened!)

  • Bob delGrosso

    Here is my deal breaker:

    SIMSBURY, Conn. – Authorities in Connecticut are wondering who stuffed a raw roasting chicken with a pipe bomb and left it on a roadside.

    Simsbury police Capt. Matthew Catania says a motorist noticed the chicken Friday morning. He says the bomb was large enough to harm a person if it went off. (

    Anytime I see a recipe that calls for a pipe bomb or any type of weapon to be added, I walk away. I don’t know, maybe I’m not a real cook,
    but I’d rather order in a pizza than have to wear percussion protection gear over my chef’s whites.

  • mike pardus

    c’mon Bob, what about that copy of “The Anarchist’s Cook Book” you have on your coffee table? Why don’t you post some recipes from THAT on your site?

  • Karin (Grew up in Cleveland and miss it in VA)

    After reading much of the previous commentary, along with the original article makes me want to shake my head.

    Much of the dialog is prompted by the modern mindset. The fast-food theory on life. Many haven’t been taught in their own homes of the need and joy to cook. Putting time and effort into food preparation; reading a cookbook and it’s complications is not only fussy but for many, purposeless. Being a serious cook could result in a big block on the daytimer. If it isn’t done in 30 minutes it’s too much out of my life.

    Rachel Ray has built an empire on that notion. She still calls herself a “cook”.

    Professionals have cultivated their passion and made it their life’s work. That’s why some write cookbooks. Not only to share the passion but in some cases just show off. The rest of us just want to feed ourselves or those we love. And sometimes we just want to be better at why we do it. That’s why we buy cookbooks for the same reasons stated above.

    The need/desire to feed ones family was instilled in me by the women in my family. My grandmother, mother. Great cooks. It was their pride in making the BEST meal at home. Whether the ingredients were simple, cheap or Sunday best. There was no discussion on technique, hell most of the time there wasn’t even a recipe. Many of them went to the grave with my grandmother. There was however the right way to do things and you did it because that was the way it was done.

    As I have sought to increase my knowledge of cooking – my personal passion, I find that many of the basic techniques were the ones taught in my mother’s kitchen.

    Never knew we were all so smart.

    Whether it is the challenge of a new recipe technique or food of a different culture, it always comes back to the basics. (Shameless unpaid plug for Michael’s book.)

    Many of today’s chefs – the ones with the fussy books (I just love that word!) will tell you that they found their interest by spending time with a family member in the kitchen.

    I’m so glad to see such spirited conversation by persons who may not have much history with cooking, finding their way into the kitchen and making it personal. That is the point.

    As home cooks we just want to do something a little better. Push the boundary for ourselves and maybe for those will eat it.

  • Anonymous

    The experience of doing the recipe right and the effort of obtaining a ‘professional’ result is, to me, what the FUSS in fussy is all about in the first place.

    Example: This past weekend was a chili cook-off where I live. My approach had to start several days in advance. I had to research winning recipes from CASI and other ‘real’ chili masters. Comparing similar styles and ingredience lists. Then I had to consult my local butcher and spice merchant. Very early on the morning of the event, cooking began.

    Technique was guided by all who cooked chili before me. Results were determined by the ‘right’ combination of spice and meat.

    Anyway, long story short- the chili was a masterpiece! Best I ever made. WORTH THE EFFORT.

    Now the other view… my spouse claimed, after tasting it, that her crock pot, canned bean and chop meat concoction was just as good. You see, in her opinion Chili was not worth the effort regardless of the outcome. The food was too lowly to justify such effort (and expense).

    So are there different classes of food worthy of the effort… cooking an egg is not cooking unless you fuss over it with sauce or technique? Is chili so low on the pecking order that a real chef won’t debase themselves making it… or if anybody can ‘cook it’ is it held to distain for not being ‘hard’ to make?

    I say nuts to those that are repulsed by Fuss. Its the road traveled that makes the journey worth taking. Taking a short-cut is acceptable (using commercial prepared chili powder would have been easier than making my own) but to me, not as enjoyable.

  • Claudia (the Original)

    Too right, “Psted by: June 11, 2008 at 10:37 AM”! Shun the disbelievers!

  • Guy Anderson

    First I am a career change chef that had the great fortune of having that freakin HOT basement Asian kitchen WITH CHEF PARDUS. Second – after reading Ruhlmans book before I started on my journey through this life of a chef, we all were pretty nervous when we realized we had him on our rotation. He was a perfectionist in his teaching. I saw him get frustrated with any of us that were not pushing ourselves towards perfection in everything we put out. I have a huge book collection of everything from jello to TFL. Is the TFL book “fussy” I can see where the society that we live in can say that. People in general do not know what they are eating or care that it took some cook/chef in a hot kitchen making perfect knife cuts, skimming stock, baking breads etc. They want a lot of it and fast. Does it anger me – Yep. Home cooks should not comprehend more advanced cooking methods – pro cooks or people in the field do. Do you think Chef K wrote that book for Kim Severson – hell no he wrote it for people that really are passionate about food. Chef Michael Pardus is passionate about food and his chosen PROFESSION and I was fortunate for having him in class – Thanks for sticking up for the profession Chef P – give em’ hell!

    Chef P – what ever happened to Scooby?

  • mike pardus

    Hey, Guy….good to hear you’re doing well and still in the game. Drop me a line at my work e-mail sometime…

    I know what you’re saying, but I don’t think it’s the same thing I was trying to get at…for me it’s not so much about comprehension and technical skill (a lot of people commenting on here could probably give us a run for our money), it’s about doing it day in and day out for rooms full of people we don’t know or love and are not obligated to nurture and STILL loving the act of cooking itself – fast and hot and precise and delicious.It’s about knowing that we could have made another choice for work that would have paid better or given us more time with family, but that we would have been unfulfilled, hating to go to work each 9-5, air-conditioned office day. It’s about belonging to a weird sort of cult that celebrates Mothers Day on Monday and speaks a twisted three language slang. It’s about digging “Kitchen Confidential” because it’s true, not because it’s shocking or outrageous.It’s about sitting through “Ratatouille” with my nine year old and having her whisper in my ear “Daddy, did you notice that we’re the only ones laughing at the REALLY funny parts?”

    It’s about identifying yourself as a cook, without qualifying it, and having your brother and sister cooks smile slyly, knowing the rest of the world doesn’t understand what you mean.

    OK – this time I mean it….this thread is dead.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Mike Pardus,
    I have read, but never owned, “The Anarchist’s Cookbook.” I did own a copy of “The Poor Man’s James Bond.” Is that what you were thinking of?

  • Neil H.

    Mr. Ruhlman,

    I’ve read the French Laundry cookbook, and I have actually made the cornets about 5 or 6 times (both with Ahi and with salmon) depending on what looked good that day. The cornet molds are hard to find, but they are available as mentioned in the book (from the CIA bookstore).

    I wouldn’t call the recipes fussy at all, complex, y perhaps, challenging for the home cook who might not have easy access to all the ingredients, tools and such, perhaps.

    To me, fussy implies _unnecessarily_ complex preparation not needed to achieve the desired result, and the recipes in the French Laundry cookbook have an honesty about them —challenging, yes, but they are the work of a talented artist in the field who added the complexity layer by layer to get the result.

    I would incidentally love to see an cookbook featuring Keller’s Ad Hoc restaurant’s greatest hits (including the fried chicken, which is amazing).

    Kind regards.

  • Daryl Cross

    Glad to hear you’re a Barnes fan. (Try William Boyd, too, another superb contemporary British novelist, if you haven’t already.) I was unaware he wrote on food and will try his book. I loved his ‘History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters.’

  • bruce wod

    I think that as a professional and someone who teaches classes to (for want of a better word and only in the sense they don’t do it as a living) amateurs I become a little dismayed at the dumbing down of cooking. there is a reason why things in the kitchen are done a certain way and why there is a language in the kitchen (sweat is such a great term as is mise en palce) Instead of complaining about fussy recipes and diffiuclt books why not use them for what they are, guides to a differsnt world. I run a small kitchen with limited staff so I can’t do what Keller does but I can pic bits out of his and other books that I can do. No one means to disparage home cooks I have taught many with remarkable skill sets. I think what would stand many cooks in good stead would be to master a basic repertoire of good technique driven recipes instead of constant experimentation. ( how do you get to Carnegie Hall…practice) Oh and by the way Claudia I have driven a 118 lb Tamworth pig seatbelted into the passeneger seat of a pick up truck because the bed of the truck was dirty.(but that’s a story for another time) This is a great and interesting thread and hopefully leads to more understanding of each others positions.