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New Recipe Tricks of the Trade

New Recipe Tricks of the Trade

06 October 2021

Specific steps students should take when receiving, writing or scaling new recipes.

By Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE

A key part of last month’s article, It's Time To Do Things Differently was letting students learn by making mistakes. Shortly after that article came out, I received the July/August issue of the National Culinary Review published by the American Culinary Federation. Pages 44 to 46 had an article on how educators transitioned to online culinary programs last year.

The article mentioned a culinary instructor who sent recipe kits home for the students to work on:

“The new format wasn’t without its setbacks. [The Chef Instructor] recalls sending recipe kits home with students only to find that some didn’t read the full recipe. ‘In one assignment, students were supposed to make a pumpkin cake roll, but a few students made pumpkin bars instead. . . .’”

Talk about learning from your mistakes! If the students were in the classroom they would have been corrected early on and would have made the correct dessert. They will soon forget how to make a pumpkin cake roll, but they will long remember to read the recipe before starting. In other words, by making a mistake they learned the necessity of following directions for future assignments in class and, more importantly, for the rest of their lives inside and outside the kitchen.

This current 50 Minute Classroom article focuses on how students should read and write recipes. First, let’s start with reading recipes.

Six steps every student should do as soon as they receive a recipe
Students need to understand they should do these steps when handed a new recipe:

  1. Students should not just jump into preparation simply by starting at the top and working their way down the recipe.
  2. If possible, students should make a copy of the recipe so they can write on it. (When students become cooks, they should check with the boss or chef first. Some places are against copying proprietary recipes.)
  3. Find a quiet place to read the recipe away from the workstation so they won’t be distracted or tempted to start prepping immediately.
  4. Read the recipe the first time from top to bottom to get a feel for the recipe, picturing how the dish will look when it is plated or displayed.
  5. Read it again, slowly. Do you know how to do everything in the recipe? If not, ask. Don’t fake any of the steps which will waste time and ingredients. Speaking of ingredients, students should make sure they have everything needed. If they are not 100 percent sure they shouldn’t start without checking. If in doubt, ask the boss or chef. Cooks don’t want to separate 40 eggs only to find out that they don’t have cream of tartar. In this second reading, determine if there are any traps in the recipe and circle them on your copy. For example, marinate for four hours, soak the beans overnight, preheat the oven to 425 degrees, etc.
  6. Now, read the recipe a third time to be sure that you have everything under control. Then, and only then, do you go to your work area and start getting your equipment and ingredients together.

When I was teaching, I would repeatedly warn my students that I was going to give them a recipe where they didn’t know a technique or have the required ingredients. I explained to them that if they followed the above six steps, they should be back in less than 10 minutes saying something like, “We couldn’t find the crab meat,” or “How do you chiffonade basil?” If they come back within 10 minutes, they got a high grade. If they come back about 40 minutes later and said, “Okay Chef, we did everything, but where is the caviar?” they get a low score since they failed to determine that we didn’t have caviar when checking their ingredients. 

There are seven parts to writing a good commercial recipe
To be a good reader of recipes, you must know what should be included in a well-written recipe. The more students know about writing recipes, the better they will be at following one.

There are seven basic parts to a good recipe:

  1. An informative name. Kevin’s Bamboozle doesn’t tell anything about the dish. Shrimp Scampi with Linguini lets everyone know what he or she will be preparing.
  2. The number of servings and the size of each serving.
  3. The exact amount of each ingredient to be used.
  4. A description of any special equipment needed. For example, a hotel pan, a 9-inch spring-form pan, a convection oven heated to 325 degrees, etc.
  5. Straightforward directions using standard culinary terms.
  6. The time needed to prepare the dish from start to finish and preferably the time should be broken down into the prep time, inactive time and cooking time. For example, a recipe for marinated skirt steak might take 10 minutes to prep, four hours marinade time (inactive time) and 15 minutes cook time for a total of four hours and 25 minutes.
  7. Finally, many restaurants and dining facilities will specify how the item should be plated and have instructions on how to safely hold the food at the proper temperature and provide information on storage and shelf life.

I recommend you break your students into small groups and have each group write a recipe for a simple dish they already know how to make such as a grilled cheese sandwich. Then switch recipes between groups and have each group follow the recipe EXACTLY as written. To really make it interesting, have each group write a different recipe so that each group is cooking something different than what they wrote. The group that makes the dish provides critiquing comments to the group that wrote each recipe.

Scaling recipes for different quantities

Students will have to scale recipes and you must teach them this skill from the beginning.

  • If students need to make the recipe in different proportions (double, triple, one-half, etc.) the best thing to do is make a copy of the recipe. (Again, check with the chef or boss first.) Do the math ahead of time and write the calculations on the page. Cross out the amount of each ingredient in the original recipe and write in the new amount. Never try to keep track of the changes in your head. Students will get distracted somewhere and end up not using the right portion of at least one ingredient.
  • Ask the chef about cooking times, temperatures, specific pans, etc., when changing the scale of a recipe. A 20-pound turkey probably won’t take twice as long as a 10-pound turkey. Likewise, if a full recipe calls for a 350-degree oven, you wouldn’t cut the oven to 175-degrees for half the recipe. Doubling a recipe using a 13 x 9 pan may require two pans, or you may be able to use one different pan.

Don’t mess with baking recipes

Students like playing around with recipes. That is a great thing and I will write more about that in the months ahead. However, they need to learn to never play with baking recipes until they have a LOT of experience. Bakers don’t even call recipes recipes; they call them formulas. The first chef I ever worked with, Chef Elihu Kittel, taught me: “Cooking is a mistake, baking is a science.” Over the years I learned how and when to play with baking formulas, but I made sure I never let my beginning students see that.

Author’s note: With the Delta Variant causing students—either individually or as a whole cohort—to quarantine at home I wanted to provide material that your students could use in your classroom or remotely. This article can be sent to your students to review at home or in class or can be used as a basis for a lecture.

Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE, has been a culinary instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 16 years.