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Recipes for restaurant cooks


Michaeltheonion
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I"m not sure how this topic will go over. I am a chef and generally I was taught to work without recipes all through my training. Not to say that there was no guidance, if something needed more apple or brown butter or parsley you just added it. Or conversely if it didn't need the added touch you would show restraint with your seasoning.

An example of a recipe I will give to a cook is: 1 Eggplant, skinned. 1 Large onions minced, concase of 1 tomato, 2 garlic cloves minced.

Olive oil in the pan. Sweat the Eggplant and begin to caramelize it. Add the onion and garlic. More olive oil as needed. Reduce heat to simmer. Add the Tomato Concase, simmer. season.

That was how I was taught to cook. Recently a few of my cooks have asked me to write everything down for them. IN GRAMS! I was shocked, because as far as I was aware all recipes ( Excluding pastry and baking ) were passed on verbally. I have worked in restaurants with recipe books, sure but it was seldom that anyone used them. I understand perfectly the need for cost and quantity control, but I feel that a recipe is static and food is always changing. I feel as though recipes are more guidelines and should be followed to a T very seldom. Anyone have differing/agreeing opinions?

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This is an interesting thread, and I'm eager to see how it develops. I am not a restaurant chef, but when asked, I am always hard-pressed to give measurements. I always suspect that they think you're holding back, as if you're keeping your secret ingredient from them. You just Make Things. Or invent a dish with what's on hand or what was good @ the farmer's market (or in the garden ... I can't wait for Spring. But that's a separate post.)

Your "recipe" with the eggplant, concasse of tomato, etc. was pretty elaborate step by step when it comes down to things. Cooking is intuitive. But people always demand "How many cups?" or "How long to you cook it?"

Until it's done.

~ elisejames08.blogspot.com ~

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It depends on what type of food you are doing. If you're getting all molecular and playing with sodium alginate and methylcellulose and sous vide, precision and accuracy are a little more important. You don't just want to throw a handful of agar into your tabasco caviar mixture, better to measure by grams or at least teaspoons.

As a pastry chef, of course I have recipes, but there are still times when you have to adjust to taste for more or less ripe fruit, and bread is mostly by feel, some days the flour needs more or less water. I never used to have sorbet recipes, because fresh fruit can be so variable, but I have some now because it takes a lot of practice to know how taste corresponds to frozen texture, and my assistants are not there yet.

I guess at some places I've worked there has been a recipe book, but most of the cooks eyeballed things anyway. Everybody knows cooks hate to measure :shock:

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Once you're comfortable, you go by feel.

Early on professionally, or as a novice home cook, measurements help to build confidence.

Like many, I am an eyeball cook.

If it looks right, it's right, if it doesn't, it isn't.

When pressed to put a recipe down on paper, I make the dish as usual, but measure each ingredient as I add it.

When you get to the point when all of your ingredients are in, but are now in the tweaking, or adjustment, stage, you adjust your notes.

What was once:

"worcestershire - 3 T",

might look like:

"worcestershire - 3 T +1 T +1T" when you are finished.

Then you add up all of your adjustments, and voila!, a recipe.

But that's when I am pressured to do so.

Usually it's an ingredient list and method.

When asked how much red bell pepper, I usually respond with "well, do you love red bell pepper? If so, use more than if you only like it a little", and so on.

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Recipes provide consistency, period. Freehanding is great, but then it changes from person to person, or night to night. Recipes, portioning means the dish will be the same night after night regardless of who prepares it.

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Recipes provide consistency, period. Freehanding is great, but then it changes from person to person, or night to night. Recipes, portioning means the dish will be the same night after night regardless of who prepares it.

Apparently Thomas Keller requires his cooks to weigh everything for this reason, right down to the mirepoix.

Notes from the underbelly

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I am a pastry cook at Jean Georges in NYC and of course we have recipes (being in pastry and all that jazz)...but the cooks have a master recipe book also, each station has their own recipe book and there are quite a few digital scales floating around....do they always follow their recipes to the T, probably not, but close enough that most people would be hard pressed to notice any subtle differences between cooks...

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I am an Executive Chef of a private golf club and I don't think there was ever a time in my career (21 years) that I have ever not used a recipe whether it be for a vinaigrette, tomato sauce or whatever.

We have a master recipe book with everything we make daily in it and when a new dish is created, all the components of that dish are logged and a recipe is created. That to me is the norm.

How can you control costs or how can your food be consistent if you don't have recipes to follow?

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Recipes provide consistency, period. Freehanding is great, but then it changes from person to person, or night to night. Recipes, portioning means the dish will be the same night after night regardless of who prepares it.

Apparently Thomas Keller requires his cooks to weigh everything for this reason, right down to the mirepoix.

This is partly true. Yes, we had to measure more than most places, but as far as things like mirepoix are concerned, it was usually done by volume rather than weight (in large combros). But the cuts for the mirepoix were as specific and as the brunoise. EVERYTHING had its own precision knife cut.

On the topic of recipes, outside of the "official" TFL recipe book, most recipes in the chef de parties notepads are simply ingredients and their measurements, neglecting the method of preparation. Its simply inherent and understood what to do with the ingredients.

Now, Im not sure how protective others are of their recipe books, but someone would lose a hand going for mine. So this method of only having what is basically an ingredients list is kind of a safe guard.

- Chef Johnny

Edited by ChefJohnny (log)

John Maher
Executive Chef/Owner
The Rogue Gentlemen

Richmond, VA

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Recipes are all well and good, but they are no substitute for tasting and adjusting. A recipe can call for 1/3 c. fresh lemon juice, but different lemons have different levels of acidity. Different times of year affect it too. So maybe in the summer the recipe needs a tablespoon or two more of LJ to balance it correctly.

I think having common methods and training the palate is probably more effective than standardized recipes, at least from a taste standpoint. You can give 6 different cooks the same recipe, and very likely all six will make something different (at least a little).

So, while measurement is effective for costing and portion control, it must be tempered with adjustment, IMO.

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I've been in several good restaurant kitchens over the past decade. 100% of the pastry departments use recipes. For the culinary departments it has been about 50/50. There doesn't seem to be a correlation between quality and use of recipes, however there is a correlation between corporation size and use of recipes. Restaurant corporations that operate several restaurants have little choice but to standardize. I'm not aware of an example of any corporation that runs two or more of the same or similar restaurant that hasn't gone to a recipe system. These recipes may not be all that much like the ones in home cookbooks. They are more along the lines of formulas: lists of ingredients and quantities, and shorthand descriptions of major steps. They may also include plating diagrams or photos. They're not meant to be substitutes for training, tasting and adjusting, but they're an important part of maintaining uniformity across multiple restaurants. If you're a home cook and want to see examples of restaurant-style recipe formulas, have a look at one of the Culinary Institute of America "Pro Chef" books.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Now, Im not sure how protective others are of their recipe books

Depends on what you mean. I'm protective of my book but I don't mind sharing recipes/ideas. If someone likes something I did well enough to want the recipe they can just ask, no need to try to sneak off with my notebook.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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In a kitchen with more than one cook, a standardized recipe book is essential for cost control, portion control and most importantly consistency. Freehand measurements are just plain sloppy, which is fine if that's the way you run your kitchen and how you want your product to be.

The fact that minor adjustments "to taste" with seasoning are obvious, and barely need to be stated.

-- Matt.

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In a kitchen with more than one cook, a standardized recipe book is essential for cost control, portion control and most importantly consistency.  Freehand measurements are just plain sloppy, which is fine if that's the way you run your kitchen and how you want your product to be.

The fact that minor adjustments "to taste" with seasoning are obvious, and barely need to be stated.

-- Matt.

I wholeheartedly agree. It is also essential for training new staff. People who have worked under you might know what you want your food to taste like, but that young CIA grad working garde manger and whipping up your vinaigrettes will have no idea.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I have worked in a few kitchens that rely too heavily on recipes. Sometimes recipes can be a bit off the mark, or downright bad, for whatever reason, and the recipe itself may need to be adjusted. Consistency is not the goal - consistently GOOD is the goal. In my experience, when chefs put too much emphasis on "following the recipe", cooks respond by neglecting to use their instincts and they don't taste their food enough.

Recipes and ratios are good as tools and guidelines, but every time you must taste, feel, and be critical of what you are making. Each component should be tasted/smelled at every step from raw until just before its plated.

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While in graduate school some 25 years ago I was a prep cook for Rick Bayless at a California Cuisine type restaurant. Among other things, he taught me how to make ice cream from scratch. Each night I'd create a new flavor using various chocolates, liqueurs, nuts and other natural ingredients. One night I uncorked a good one and everyone flipped over it. When Rick asked for the recipe I told him, "I dunno, I made it up as i went along."

That was the only time I ever saw him get angry.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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