Recipes for Success

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but cooking is a little bit trendy these days. It’s splattered all over the TV like the aftermath of a vicious food fight, shops are bristling with lethal-looking culinary gadgetry, and the everyday staples in the supermarket are increasingly jostled by intimidatingly exotic interlopers from all over the world. Chefs, cooks and foodies everywhere (including yours truly) are exhorting us to have a go in the kitchen.

Not so fast, though. Just to stop it being too easy, the universal cooking commandment these days seems to be that Thou Shalt Not Use Recipes.

Considering the glossy recipe books and foodie magazines overflowing shelves everywhere, this is bewildering, but apparently using a recipe is a bit uncool – a bit infra dig.

Gospel according to Masterchef
Almost every time you see cooking on the TV, whether amateur or professional, the person wielding the pots and pans is careful to throw in a casual reference to the fact that they never use recipes – usually with a slightly self-deprecating air, as if to say that they know it’s a bit rebellious, but as soon as they get their oven gloves on, they just can’t keep their creative cooking inside the lines. 

I’m the first to admit that I don’t always use a recipe, but when I first started cooking, I always had a recipe book at hand, as their stained and wrinkled pages will attest. Even now, when I’m trying something new, I’ll often have a good rummage through my recipe collection and a scout around my favourite websites (BBC Food is particularly helpful on everything from basics to showstoppers) to help me work out how to go about it.

Plenty of people are intimidated by the idea of cooking, and I think this has a lot to do with the vague, all-pervading idea that you’re supposed to just sort of know, instinctively, how to do it. It’s not ‘proper cooking’ unless you can grab whatever’s in the fridge, throw in a pinch of this and a dash of that, and create a feast worthy of a Michelin star.

This is RUBBISH. Let’s face it, if you can read, then you can follow a recipe, and if you can follow a recipe, you can cook. It’s as simple as that.

Naturally, you need to start with manageable recipes (stay off the croquembouche until you’re a bit more confident), but it really is that easy.

Of course, it’s good fun when you get to a stage where you can make it up as you go along, but there’s absolutely no shame in following a recipe, whether you’re a novice cook or a confident chef. People who get their recipes published do so for a reason – because they know what they’re doing and they have good ideas – so why not benefit from their experience?