Ask Chef Rachael: Do Chefs Need Recipes?

In last month's issue we defined the difference between a cook and a chef, but we have a lingering question: "Do chefs use recipes?" To find out, we asked our resident expert, Kowalski's Culinary Director, Chef Rachael Perron, for her thoughts on the matter:

"Well trained in all areas of food preparation, chefs are typically able to cook in their area of expertise without referring to a recipe, partly because they can (as a result of training and repetition) and also because they have to – it isn't always practical to consult reference material in their work environment.

Recipe"But it is unrealistic to think that a chef never has to use some sort of reference material. All professionals occasionally do research, consultation and investigation, even chefs. Though they might not do it in a courtroom or during a patient exam, even lawyers refer to case law and doctors consult prescription dosing charts when and where needed.

"Though they may not need them in their kitchen, or very often, chefs certainly use recipes and other culinary books and guides. A chef who rarely works in pastry may have difficulty recounting a proper sponge cake recipe with precision, just as a chef who runs a Greek restaurant might not be confident in their ability to whip up Chicken Tikka Masala on the fly.

"Does all this mean you aren't a 'chef' if you need a recipe to cook? Maybe. There's a difference between checking the ratio of baking soda to flour and other ingredients in a chocolate chip cookie recipe when you know what all of the ingredients are and needing to be reminded that the cookies require butter, sugar, flour, baking soda, an egg and chocolate chips. There's also a difference between knowing you could successfully roast a rack of lamb and wanting to follow someone else's (such as your grandmother's) recipe exactly in order to recreate a specific culinary experience. But if you can put your favorite dishes on the table meal after meal without consulting anyone or anything, only needing a recipe to bake a chocolate babka once a year or to make coq au vin for the first time ever, you're doing just fine; if you care to call yourself a chef, I won't mind at all."

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