People often say, cooking is an art, not a science; cook from the heart, not the head. Having proclaimed that, the said people promptly open a recipe book, or watch a recipe video, and slavishly start following instructions – add one teaspoon of this, 20 grams of that, one cup of the other. Why do we have to measure and follow every word of a recipe, as if it were a doctor’s prescription? This sounds more like a chemistry lab than a kitchen, and I do not remember when I last created delicious flavours in a lab. Follow your heart and add what feels right to you at that moment – and the operative word is ‘feel’. Cooking is all about feeling, not knowing. There is no right or wrong recipe. Burn the recipe and cook with your heart. Even if you start with a recipe (or ten), use it as exactly that – a starting point. Then ignore the recipe and create your own magic.
I do not cook by recipe; nor do I tell others to cook by my recipes. If you simply copy a recipe, you are just reproducing a faint photocopy of someone else’s masterpiece. Create your own masterpiece. Good artists don’t copy other people’s paintings; good writers don’t reproduce other people’s literary works. In those creative domains, copying is called plagiarism. Why then should cooks plagiarise someone else’s creation by a line-by-line reproduction of their recipe?
Mouth-watering dishes by Ravi Miglani
Treat recipes as inspirations not prescriptions. If you follow a prescription, you are robotically reproducing what someone has already produced. If you just keep copying recipes, you are not adding to the net knowledge in the world. New ideas, new discoveries, new flavours are created when you go off the beaten track and create your own masterpiece. In following a recipe there is no suspense, no joy of discovery, no serendipity. If you throw in different ingredients, take a sharp left turn halfway through a cooking session, and do something wild, you discover, you create, you surprise yourself.
Would you read a book if you already knew the ending? Why would you cook with a known end result? That is boring. Without surprise and discovery, cooking becomes a chore. You surely want cooking to be an exhilarating experience and not a chore! Go wild with your heart and your imagination.
This Professor Cooks. And talks about food ideas, food culture, food hacks, and food history. Watch this space for some food and a lot more food for thought.
Ravi Miglani is a home cook and consumer insights professional. Following a corporate career spanning eight countries and three decades, he is now a professor at Ahmedabad University (when he isn’t cooking).