“A recipe is only a guideline”, bellowed Chef Gabriel, as we chopped, sautéed, and braised our way through our Food Techniques recipe packet. It was perhaps the most important lesson I learned in culinary school.
When using a recipe, like in a great Broadway show, improvisation, as well as a spirit of adventure, is a prerequisite.
Think of a recipe as a launching pad; use it to get you moving in the right trajectory. First, read the recipe once, familiarize yourself with the ingredients and instructions. Next, gather your ingredients, and start to measure them out in advance, in the culinary world, this is known as mise en place.
Third, read the recipe again! Check your measurements against the recipe.
Finally, prepare the recipe as directed, tasting along the way if applicable (do not taste marinated raw meats, raw eggs, other potentially hazardous uncooked foods).
Even if you have followed the recipe exactly, you may find that it’s “missing something”, or that it doesn’t taste the way that you hoped or expected. In that event, revert to the timeless and sage advice of the Master Chef, and adjust the seasonings or consistency to suit your preferences.
Cooking like a pro is about confidence. Though altering and embellishing a recipe may sound intimidating, it’s essential to have the confidence to deviate from the printed word. The art of cooking isn’t only in following the directions, but in having the confidence to cook using instinct and the sound principles of good taste.