There are no smoke and mirrors here. A blank recipe book is, well, exactly that. It’s a blank booklet, small or large but preferably small enough to fit into an apron’s front pocket, that accompanies a chef on his or her cooking adventures.
It’s the book that contains a chef’s intimate culinary secrets and oftentimes is where the most personal recipes lie. Inspired by years of travel, staff lunches or dinners into the late hours, and home meals cooked by loved ones, a blank recipe book is a treasure trove of tips and tricks.
Why would a chef need a blank recipe book?
A chef’s blank recipe book is where he can write down all his trials and errors, with the goal of perfecting a recipe. It’s essential to take notes when developing a dish, and in its most basic form a chef’s recipe book is a very technical set of references. The perfect iteration rarely comes from the first try.
It will take several tweaks until a chef is satisfied with the creation, and the best way to track those changes is by writing down every single gram, temperature change, and minute that it took to develop.
Of course it can also contain anecdotes and bouts of inspiration that hit at any given moment, functioning as a culinary journal. It can include a passage that details the flavour palette of a delightful Thai curry experienced down a backstreet in Bangkok. Or a tale of a melt-in-the-mouth slice of jamón ibérico enjoyed at a wedding in the mountains near Barcelona.
Less tangible but equally visceral memories from years before a professional kitchen career can seep in as well. Going through the full blank book can read discordant for an outsider, but to the chef it’s a record of all the best culinary adventures.
The form a blank recipe book takes will utterly depend on its author, and for this reason it becomes more personal than a restaurant’s menu.
Have blank recipe books become famous cookbooks?
Whereas many restaurants will author their own cookbooks with the help of the head chef and the entire team, a chef’s own cookbook is a different animal.
The recipes that make their way to a chef’s personal cookbook have no doubt come from the pages of a blank recipe book of some sort. And so, the blank book of recipes becomes doubly significant. It is where a chef can begin to ascertain her identity, different from predecessors and contemporaries.
Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame even includes his sketches of dishes in some of his now famous published works on the restaurant. More than just ingredients and measurements, a blank recipe book-cum-cookbook is a wonderful platform to express creativity.
And in a delightful cycle it is those very cookbooks that we aspiring cooks buy, cherish and thumb and stain, that end up wearing our own marks. Drawing inspiration from our favourite chef’s culinary trials and tribulations, we start to create our own.
A bit less sugar here, a dash more thyme there, ten degrees less on the oven - it is these personal adjustments that reflect our own preferences and creative identities as chefs.
No need for fancy kitchens or large audiences, only our experiences and palates that we continually develop over time.
In Andrea Fazzari's book 'Sushi Shokunin: Japan's Culinary Masters', the pursuit of unattainable perfection leads Japan's sushi masters, or shokunin, on a path of dedication, cultural expression and meaning. Paul Feinstein spoke to the author about the project, and about what it means to be a shokunin.