Extreme makeover: recipe edition

recipe creation

If you have ever spent time looking at cookbooks dated prior to the 1940s, you know that how recipes are written has changed over time. Irma S. Rombauer revolutionized recipe writing with the seminal Joy of Cooking. More recently, recipes have also undergone a shift, as The New York Times explains.

New cookbooks and websites have again revolutionized how we cook. Today, “you can learn to bake a cake from a comic book, or by diving deep into a manifesto on leavening. You can pick the whimsical complexities of a Manhattan baker or the whimsical simplicity of a woman on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma.” Editors and cooks agree that recipes have become “more open-ended and broader” in their approach. Detailed explanations and formulas have been replaced by prose and context.

Editors and writers believe this change better matches a new generation of cooks who need less hand-holding and who have access to more and better ingredients than previous generations. “The average person is a much better cook and so much more sophisticated than they once were,” said Wylie Dufresne, who is working on a cookbook based on his NYC restaurant, WD-50, which closed last November. “They deserve to know not only how but why.”

Not everyone is jumping on the open-ended bandwagon, however. Chef Jacques Pépin is one of the traditionalists. “The recipe for me has to be exact and useful and usable,” he said.  He believes that home cooks should make a recipe as written at least once, preferably twice. Only after mastering the basic recipe should they improvise. Chris Kimball, founder of Cook’s Illustrated magazine and the television franchise America’s Test Kitchen, also thinks that straightforward recipe writing is not a dinosaur. “The core thing should remain core and stripped down and useful and clear,” Mr. Kimball said. “I don’t think people want to read 400 words to make scrambled eggs.”

The view that the newer generation of cooks need less handholding seems to contradict the volume of stories that most young people don’t possess basic cooking skills, having grown up on convenience food and takeaway. Perhaps in the YouTube era, experience is only a click away. Are you a fan of novel approaches like cookbooks as graphic novels or do you prefer a more traditional approach to recipes?

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One Comment

  • ellabee  on  October 15, 2015

    "The average person is a much better cook and so much more sophisticated than they once were": I assume Wylie Dufresne means here 'the average person _who cooks_' — unless all those depressing findings about the decline of home cooking are beginning to turn around? We can hope.

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