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

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143 Wonderful responses to “Recipe Dealbreakers”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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. (http://tinyurl.com/5ny5yh)

    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)

    Jen76:

    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!)

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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 . . .

  • 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?”

  • 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:

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=aupPmDtdmNI

    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

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. :D

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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!

    Kim

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

    Kim

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/how-to-cookwithout-using-recipes-781412.html

  • 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?…

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 :D 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.