Michael Ruhlman on Freeing Yourself from Recipes [Cooking]

13 Apr/09

If Michael Ruhlman ‘s done his job, your cookbooks might become obsolete—at least for everyday cooking. Here’s what the food writer said over email about ratios, the foundation of all your food. Foodies might recognize Ruhlman from his non-fiction accounts of training at the Culinary Institute of America, working with Thomas Keller at the world-renowned French Laundry restaurant and writing its lavish cookbook, and his culinary take on recreating the writer’s bible, Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style,” for the home cook with The Elements of Cooking . TV junkies might better know him for his judging stints on The Next Food Network Star or Cooking Under Fire , or his guest appearances with fellow prose-friendly cook Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations . Ruhlman’s latest work, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking , aims to reeducate the home chef and open their minds to the idea of cooking without a line-by-line recipe; to instead learn the basic formulas of five food groups (doughs, stocks, sausages, sauces, and custards), and then improvise and experiment from there on out. Chefs know these ratios, even if they don’t call them ratios, and they’re a big part of why they can vary a menu and branch out without fear. The topic sounded like an ideal kitchen hack to us, so we asked Ruhlman to trade a few email questions about cooking and writing with us. He kindly responded, and the transcript follows: Lifehacker: What does learning the ratio of a dish or food type, as opposed to knowing a great/grandma’s recipe, allow you to do differently? Michael Ruhlman: It allows you to improvise. It allows you to take a basic preparation like quickbreads and apply any flavor you want to it. It allows you to cook without recipes Lifehacker: Why has the average home cook been left in the dark about the fundamentals of cooking by ratios?

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