What is a recipe? According to the ginormous reference on one of my bookshelves, The American Heritage Dictionary of The English Language, recipe is first defined as “A set of directions with a list of ingredients for making or preparing something, especially food.”

But the second definition is just as interesting: “A formula for or means to a desired end.”

The question is are recipes written in stone or a template for a concept for a dish? Let’s set aside baking–which requires fairly strict adherence to a recipe to result in a bread with the right texture, a cake with the right crumb, etc. How closely do you adhere to a recipe you got from your grandma, chose in a cookbook, or found online?  Do you stick to it the first time to see how it works and riff from there? Based on your expertise, can you see flaws in the ingredient amounts and make adjustments? And how do you expect others to use your recipes?

What does a recipe mean to you?

Eater recently ran an article by Navneet Alang that wrestled with this. Alang points out that cooking is an act of care and that following a recipe can be ritualistic, “the practice of repeating established, sequential steps a comfort when the world feels uncertain.” He likens it to received wisdom or repositories of knowledge. And,  he explains, “There is a reason recipes are passed down from generation to generation.”

APPCA member Lola Dee says, “I have a very difficult time sticking to recipes, I tend to tweak everything and substitute ingredients, using what I have. I think if you use the recipe as a guideline and apply correct methods you can come up with some delicious breakthroughs. However, if you’re cooking institutionally or for a restaurant, you do have to stick to the recipes for consistency, costing, etc.”

I know I can relate to this. I, too, am a recipe tweaker, although with recipes using a technique unfamiliar to me, I tend to follow them precisely the first time to learn.

But an experienced, confident home cook or chef can take the essence of a recipe and turn it into a dish that doesn’t just make do with the ingredients we have or can source–an issue we’ve faced through the pandemic. Their massage of the recipe can be an act of creativity, a way of imprinting oneself on a dish. Or, of course, a adaptive way to address dietary restrictions. We look at a recipe’s construction to learn where to build flavor, how to build body, how to transform texture. We are taking a basic melody and essential instruments and coming up with our own orchestration.

Essentially, the recipe transforms from a directive to a template. A happy guidepost to our own destination.

As personal chef, food blogger, and recipe developer Gina Bean explains:

“Recipe writing is a skill… A good recipe has its place, for sure. But, cooks should make dishes the way they, and their diners, like them.”

What is your approach to using recipes and writing them? Are they set in stone or a template for creativity?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership. 

And if you are a member and have a special talent or point of view to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

 

APPCA member Lola “Dee” Dondanville has run her personal chef business, Just Deelicious, since 2012. Her Bullhead City, Ariz.-based company does mostly special occasion gatherings (not much call where she is for weekly service, she says) and supplies healthy lunches for several non-profit organizations. She also writes a healthy food blog called What’s Cooking, Healthy Cooking by Lola Dee. When she told us that she’d been asked to speak at an elementary school career day about being a personal chef, we just had to get her to share her experience. Here it is:

I received a call in January from one of our local elementary school teachers, inviting me to speak at career day at Sunrise Elementary, here in Bullhead City, Ariz., where I live and work. She found my name by googling “personal chef” for our area. My name popped up on the APPCA site, as I happen to be one of the only personal chefs listed in Mohave County, Ariz. She asked me to create a 30-minute presentation for three successive groups of 4th through 6th graders. My assignment was to not only give information about being a personal chef, but to directly relate it to math, science, and English. Of course, I planned on doing some preaching about healthy eating too! Brilliant!

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I was excited and honored to be invited. As it so happens, Sunrise Elementary is a beautiful new school, just around the corner from my home. Once I found the right door and made it through security, I was greeted by some of my fellow presenters, the proverbial butcher, baker, and candlestick maker. I met a doctor, the county coroner, (forensics is a popular career), a lawyer, firemen, EMT’s, a pastry chef from Harrahs, and many others. We made our way into the auditorium to the assembly of the entire student body featuring a pep talk presented by our Parks & Recreation Director, a Bullhead City native.

The enthusiasm and sheer energy coming from a room full of elementary school students is palpable. I began to feel a rush of happy energy just being in their presence. It was near Valentine’s Day, so my bright pink chef’s coat and chef hat with my custom embroidered heart logo that means “Cooking From the Heart” were very appropriate! The kids responded so positively, and were so excited, gazing at me with beaming faces and smiles.

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After the assembly, I was shown to “my” classroom, where I would be making my presentations. As it turns out, I was assigned to the art teachers classroom, and she happens to be the daughter of a good friend and colleague of mine! Janet made me comfortable, and set me up with a table, erasable board, and everything I needed for my presentation.

The first group filed in, all bubbly and excited. The first question I asked the kids was, “So who wants to be a chef?” Almost every single child raised their hand excitedly, which really tickled me. I then began my presentation, covering all my bullet points followed by a question-and-answer period. I shared personal stories, about my background of childhood poverty and divorce, and how my single mother of five was the original Martha Stewart. I described how my Mom/role model did organic gardening, cooking, canning, baking, sewing, crafts, remodeling, and so much more. The kids could relate to this, as many are experiencing hardships in their own lives. They began to open up and share stories of their own. It was very touching!

I was easily able to connect a personal chef career to the value of knowing math by doing examples of math problems for costing meals, and the exact formulas we use to be profitable. Food safety and baking were my examples of science. Vocabulary was utilized by discussing all the words and terms we use in cooking. I emphasized hard work, self esteem, responsibility, business management, marketing, sales, and customer service, in addition to the cooking skills. I, of course, pitched healthy eating and  cooking. My healthy eating mantras for the kids were: “Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Find the ones you like and eat them often” and “Cook real food at home with your family.”

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The second group was equally enthusiastic, but by the time the third group came in, they were getting restless, so it took more energy to keep them captive. They were really excited about getting their photos taken and being featured on my blog, Facebook, etc. It made them feel famous, as they all seem to watch TV cooking shows. 😀

I think the most poignant memory of the day for me was from a sweet young Mexican boy, 11 years old, who very seriously told me he needs to take care of his family and look after his mother. He told me his mom is a very good cook and wanted to know if I could hire her if I needed some kitchen help, but told me she does not speak much English. Such a sincere, sweet and caring young boy, trying to help his mom. It really melted my heart.

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That’s about it. I was so jazzed the rest of the day. Being around these kids was so uplifting and fun. I would recommend this experience for any of my fellow chefs if you get the chance. It is both fun and uplifting, and is great marketing as well. As personal chefs, it really gives us validation to be included on career day, alongside other chefs with prestigious careers. It also puts your good name and brand out there for potential bookings. As you can see I hung up my sign and also handed out cards.

Lola Dondanville, aka “Lola Dee” because Dondanville is way too long, 🙂

Are you sharing your personal chef career experiences with the next generation?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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