I get asked a lot what are my favorite cookbooks – my usual response is “Food Porn.” I thought that would get your attention. If you’re not familiar with this term, it’s not some kind of kinky sex with apple pies or anything. Food Porn is what foodies and chefs call cookbooks such as The French Laundry, Chez Paniessse, and anything Charlie Trotter has to do with. In the pages, you will find spectacular visual presentations of food at its’ pinnacle of beauty – provoking salivation and lustful hunger. I don’t read these books for their recipes – I look at this shit for the pictures like a 10 year old that found his dad’s stack of Playboys.
The problem with cookbooks is similar to that of some religious texts in my opinion – people take it literally or as some call it – the word of God. Some people read recipes, and as they attempt to replicate the beautiful dishes pictured, the stress causes them to be come wound tighter than a hummingbird’s asshole. When was the last time you were in one of those big box bookstores? There are more cookbooks than one could read in a lifetime. Do you really believe every recipe in those texts are formatted to be reproduced in your two bedroom apartment? No, no they’re not! Plus, most chefs don’t give you their exact recipe – they leave something out, “their secret ingredient.” This is why you cannot replicate the spinach dip like the one you get at Houston’s – they don’t tell you there’s mayonnaise in it. Oops, sorry boys, your secret’s out! Recipes should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.
No I’m not looking to lose any of my devout friends by mocking their “big books.” I’m trying to teach you to read a recipe and not let it belittle you. This is how I read a recipe – pay attention because it’s pretty simple. I read the recipe twice, get all of my prep work set out in front of me, then read the recipe a third time aloud and close the book. I don’t have a photographic memory – trust me I wouldn’t have become a cook if that were the case! Instead, I’m visualizing the process of creating the dish, looking at the products in front of me and allowing instinct to take over (we all have this instinct you just have to have confidence in it). All too often people get weighed down by trying to follow recipes word for word – that will screw you every time! Just get your prep (the ingredients listed) laid out in front of you, visualize the steps of cooking – (e.g. saute garlic/onion in butter, add meat, cook longer, add veggies, add fresh herbs/Slavo Salt, and lay over cooked pasta). Whatever the stupid recipes says – think about the steps and close the book. Use your instincts on timing and taste, a book cannot tell you if something tastes good people!
This is why I write my “recipes” the way that I do. Telling someone in conversation, it is easier to replicate a dish than by giving you a bullet pointed list – in my opinion. Plus, I get to toss in my crass language and senseless humor. The recipes should read like a conversation we’re having over the telephone. Yes, I often get calls at all hours from friends and family with cooking questions, which I have not started charging for YET! Speaking of Miller – sorry for not getting back to you yet man, my bad.
Now this takes practice everybody. You’re going to make some real crap on occasion! In fact, I made a nearly inedible dinner just the other night, fortunately my guests didn’t give me too much hell for this. No I’m not telling you what it was because it has come to my attention that some of my former colleagues actually read this culinary filth I’ve been spewing on a weekly basis. And I’m not volunteering myself for late-night drunken calls from the Loon or Slip Inn – sorry not today. The fact is cooking is all about trial and error – just keep trying. Simple as that!