May 25, 2011
Recently I was at a vegan restaurant where I ordered a sandwich on the menu with some modifications. It went something like "hi! I'll have the veggie burger, but hold the onions and can I get the multi-grain bread and dijon dressing instead? thanks!"
After I ordered, my friend ordered his sandwich by name and followed it with "and I'll take it just like the chef intended it to be."
He said it in a way that offended me slightly, like I was being rude to the chef.
"What do you mean by that?" I asked.
"Well every time we go out to lunch you're always bastardizing the menu item. When we go to non-vegan restaurants I get why, but here you can eat everything. Why not eat it the way it was intended?" he explained.
We then went into a long exchange. I explained that I hated raw onions and I was just going to pick them off anyway, might as well not be wasteful, and also, that I don't eat white bread, or aioli (the original dipping sauce)---even if it's vegan.
These were just my personal preferences, it wasn't that I thought I was smarter or could make the sandwich better. Hell, if we're going on taste alone, I bet the soft white bread and extra fat was more delicious -- but that's not how I eat. Besides, why would I order something I know I won't enjoy? Isn't part of the restaurant experience having someone else cook for you, your way?
But my friend's attitude wasn't budging. He still thought I was being a diva.
Finally he said, "Well how would you like it if people tampered with your recipes?"
I smiled and said "oh but they do, all the time! and I want them to! I even said as much in my cookbook. Recipes are really just a "suggestion" and people can tweak the spices or whatever to their tastes. More or less of a spice won't break the whole recipe."
One of my favorite parts about writing a cookbook is seeing how my testers palates and preferences play into things. Some of my testers really love heat, while others tend to go very mild. Then they all have their unique quirks---one gal is always telling me to go heavier on the garlic and another is telling me my goodies need more sugar since they're, you know, goodies... that sort of thing.
When I'm trying a new recipe for the first time, I tend to follow it as written (with the exception of oil that I always omit or sub out) but there are times when I don't have everything, so I "make it work" or I'll see something has, say, 3 tbsps of chili powder, and knowing that's too strong for my preferences, I'll scale it back. Even with my own recipes, which were designed for my palate, I'm always tampering.
A friend that's a chef at a popular NYC eatery told me once that she's pretty sure every entree that leaves the kitchen is just a little different. She has a base recipe in her head, sure, but its all a pinch of this, a dash of that--and sometimes her hand is heavier.
I've always felt cooking was organic--intuitive, and deeply personal. The best part about being home in the kitchen is being home in the kitchen--feeling comfortable.
So I beg to ask--do you follow a recipe to a T? tweak it and customize? a bit of both?