Note: This is not a rant, just a clarification. No need to change the channel.
Ever since I started the Cooking Through Ratio series on my blog, people have been asking me if I am doing the “Julie and Julia thing”. The quick answer to that question is no, I am not doing the “Julie and Julia thing” and it never was my intent.
At the beginning of the year I made the simple decision to learn how to cook. I wasn’t about to plunk down thousands of dollars for culinary school on a whim and opted to design a “course of study” if you will that would allow me to learn mostly on my own. Overtime as I’ve learned about cooking, nutrition, food issues and a myriad other topics I’ve become very focused on cooking method. The reason being, recipes, ingredients and knowledge don’t make great cooks, but rather the perfect execution of methods that bring them all together.
I’ve read through many books and decided that the best way to learn method was to actually work my way through a book or program that taught key methods through a clear lens. Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking fit the bill for what I was looking for. By teaching through the lens of how chef’s look at cooking and by employing simple ratios for ingredients as a base for cooking knowledge I was not bound by the ingredients and recipes I had at my disposal. Instead I could start with employing varied methods and ratios and build a foundation.
So even though I am working my through a book as Julie Powell did, I am not trying to cook my way through recipes to learn a particular type of cuisine. That has its merits, but I am not at that point in my journey. I hope that when I start focusing on a particular style of cooking such as French, Asian, Latin, Italian, Mediterranean or something else, the foundation I am building will allow me to approach the food with confidence not only in my skill but in my ability to experiment while focusing on the essence of the food and not the minute details of a recipe. Moving forward I’ll choose another text to delve deeper into specific methods for cooking and baking while also learning the science.
Thanks for all of the comments and encouragement. I enjoy interacting with readers while sharing ideas and experiences. The learning process has been fun with the future filled possibilities looking even more exciting as I learn more each and every day.
My mother while searching for my name came across my personal web site and then clicked through to this blog. I’m currently working on a re-design which I had hoped to have done before the “unveiling”, although I’m happy that she was able to read about what I have been up to. Now the pressure’s on to step up my game and improve my skill. The power of the internet and specifically Google’s search is truly amazing. I’m fortunate to have a really nice and encouraging mother unlike Julie Powell’s mother as portrayed in the film Julie & Julia, so mom if you’re reading thanks for your support and get ready for some really good food!
Tonight I went to see Julie & Julia with my family. We went to the 10 p.m. showing at a local theater and despite the late time were surprised that the theater we were in was empty except for ourselves. This was amazing considering all the press that has come out promoting the film.
I started reading Julia’s book, My Life in France in anticipation of the film, but was unable to read it through before the film came out. So far it has been exceptional and eye opening, providing insight into the legendary cook that goes way beyond her successful TV shows and books. I’ll admit that I was less excited to hear about Julie Powell’s story and introduction to cooking. Yes, she and I have many commonalities with respect to writing a blog food and our learning to cook, and perhaps our egotistical view that anyone should care to read our blog, but I could not find any additional contributions to the food world from her big or small post blog except for her story which has become a film. Perhaps our desires and goals are different, but I believe in give and take when it comes to anything in life, and that each student has a duty to teach what they have learned to make the world a better place. This I intend to do in the future.
I was not swayed by the onslaught of press that has come out for the film. I chose not to read any reviews and go in with an open mind and with only a cursory idea of what it was about. Often hype ruins a movie.
Acting for both personalities was great. Amy Adams is sweet and likable as she portrays Julie Powell in this film. Meryl Streep provides a convincing and enjoyable performance as Julia Child. The acting is where I feel the film’s merits end. The Powell side of the story was definitely weaker than the Julia Child portion. The director did a great job of weaving both stories together in a non-confusing way and in the end did the best she could making a movie as my father put it “out of a story with no plot”.
Julia Child’s culinary legend is unlikely to be matched by anyone. Being able to top what she has done for cooking in society is a feat nearly impossible to top. She was an amazing person who left an amazing legacy, helping America and the world embrace the kitchen again. With the bar set high, she provides inspiration for us all to be the best we can and help others be at their best as well. Even though the movie was not a ten, it’s easy going and worth seeing even if only to be inspired. The fact that it exists is an indicator of how far and how important food has become in our society. If only it had more about Julia or perhaps if it was just a movie about her life would it have scored higher.
Do chefs use recipes? I am willing to bet the answer to that question is “no” or “rarely”. This isn’t because recipes are bad or because they aren’t useful. They are and they have their place for sure. Recipes are a great way to pass on a dish and methods to someone else so that they can replicate something of yours. They are like a recorded history passed from person to person. They also ensure consistency which is key in the world of cooking? So if recipes are good for all these things, why aren’t they used by Chefs? The reason can be generally summed up that Chefs have an intuitive sense of cooking and more importantly method. Method and experience combined with creativity allow a chef to free themselves from recipes and cook.
I’ve been watching a lot of Chef Todd Mohr’s videos on YouTube about cooking method. He is keenly focused on the method so that one does not have to worry about recipes and can cook freely. I’ve enjoyed the many videos I have seen so far along with his quirky and enthusiastic explanations of key cooking methods with the aim of demystifying what humans have been doing since the dawn of time. His lessons are many and cover the broad range of topics on cooking and made me think even more about the learning process I am going through.
I recently purchased Michael Ruhlman’s latest book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking which focuses on a key tool in the chef’s arsenal, the ratios of cooking. The premise is that by knowing key ratios instead of recipes you open up yourself to countless possibilities instead of a finite few. I plan to work my way through the book which will allow me to take the next step in what Chef Mohr advocates with learning method while also proving a great opportunity to use my new KitchenAid mixer, a definite bonus. I hope to gain a deeper understanding of culinary fundamentals that will help me become more comfortable and creative in the kitchen.
I still plan on following recipes as they will allow me to reproduce the dishes they outline. A key benefit of this is that after the dish is created I can use the methods I have learned to provide my own interpretation of the dish and make it my own if I choose. I’ll also be able to better understand the whys of problems I encounter when a dish doesn’t turn out as expected.
Taking blog readers along for the ride seems to be the popular trend these days with blogs like Alinea at Home, 101 Cookbooks and The Julie/Julia Project which has become a published book will make a debut as a major film in August. Following suit, I plan to take you all through Ratio in a blogging series I plan on calling Cooking Through Ratio. Who knows, maybe you’ll see my story in the theaters in a few years. Wish me luck and Bon Appétit!