Getting back into cooking since 2009.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


"If you have a good palate and oodles of patience, you can achieve amazing dishes with the right recipe. You must, however, follow the recipe". -Matt Preston.

What a load of crap.

Preston is a very good food writer, despite being prone to the occasional lapse into encyclopaedic recitation of factoids. His unfortunately-titled book Cravat-a-Licious is an enjoyable read. 

However, I couldn't disagree more with his "rule" about recipes. In Cravat-a-Licious, Preston lists a number of "rules" that he thinks ought to guide home cooks. They're mostly fairly unobjectionable, if a tad patronising. The recipe rule, however, is pretty much offensive. Preston's silly rule tells us home cooks that the fundaments of cooking are beyond our feeble grasp; that our role is merely to reassemble pre-ordained dishes as if they were flat-packed furniture.

It's also at odds with his rule #13, "cook from your heart". How can you "cook from your heart" if you're robotically, slavishly following a recipe?

I started out highly recipe-dependent and completely scared of failure in the kitchen. Cooking, for me, was something I took up as a means to an end when I first moved out of home, the end being my slightly gluttonous love of eating. I soon found that I loved cooking for its own sake, but it took a while to learn when and how to veer away from the strictures of recipes, to substitute and improvise and even create dishes of my own: ie., to actually cook properly. 

Preston's rule tells us not to bother, that we're better being fearful of food and dutifully following a recipe, measuring out 125 grams of flour here and 15ml of olive oil there. He does backtrack a bit with rule #34: "if you are a good cook you don't have to follow a recipe word for word". What a generous concession to the abilities of home cooks.

As I said at the start, I like Matt Preston. I didn't watch Masterchef, but I do think he's a good writer. I just find his attitude towards home cooks a bit patronising and dismissive, which is surprising from someone who often seems to value rustic "authenticity" over fiddly fine-dining.