The Cook's Notebook

Joined Jan 5, 2001
One of the most important items in any cook's career is the notebook that captures what s/he learns. It's the crappy notebook that has caked-on flour and grease stains all over it. In your first year as a cook, you learn which ink will withstand these stains and which won't. I had some great recipes that vanished into oblivion because of duck confit....

I would like to start a discussion about how you, as a professional cook, organise your information. Are you organised at all? Do you have a jumble of recipes that were written as you acquired them? Do you save them on your computer?

I have a booklet or two or three for every restaurant I've ever worked in. I have tried to recopy my recipes in proper notebooks that I keep at home. I have a book for meats, one for veg, for pastry etc. Except I haven't been very assiduous in upkeeping them, which is a shame because as time goes by, you lose a lot of information that you didn't realize you had.

My day to day is in two parts: the first half is for recipes, chef menus etc. The second half (I work back to front) is for daily prep lists.

What does your book look like?
Joined Oct 28, 1999
I hold my notebook near and dear. I started with an unlined sketchbook that I salvaged from the 'half-off' bin at a local art supply store. It fit neatly in my pocket and was spiral bound across the top to make for easy reference. I filled it with little bits and morsels about what I saw and what I heard. Often, when in a book store, I would jot down the latest work that I wanted; rather than purchase cook books, I often ask my library to get them. I'm frugal. Okay, okay... I'm cheap.
Anyhow, I started filling these little notebooks. A few years back, my younger daughter bought be a beautiful, leather notebook with a tether in the middle to hold replacement pages. I treasure it. It has a classic look with its rough cut tie to keep it securely closed. I keep little slips of paper in my pocket and transfer appropriately important notes to my fancy book.
In keeping with my old fashioned note taking system, I use a fountain pen, as well. I like the way it writes, and given that I am left handed, it is about the only writing implement that I can use that will ensure that my writing is legible.
My "big" writing happens on a computer and stays there. I like the classic book and pen pracitce, but for articles and such I turn to technology. But, there will always be a notebook with my scribble close by.
Joined Mar 21, 2004
When I first started cooking, I kept notes on various small pads that I stored in my toolbox. I kept these in storage in beer boxes and a few years ago, added these notes to my computer. These days, I carry a palm pilot and download my notes each day onto my computer. That's about 30 years of notes.
Joined Jan 5, 2001
I would definitely pay money for such a compendium. What a wealth! This would be much more interesting to me than any cookbook...

Wyoming, PLEASE MAKE BACKUPS!!! You never know... My hardrive once got wiped and I lost 3 years of recipes. Thankfully, those that I used the most were printed out...
Joined Jul 31, 2000
Good thread Anneke,

I have followed a similar route as Jim,

I keep daily notes in my day planner then trancribe them onto my computor in a suitable file.

Like Wyoming, when I started 25 years ago we hade no computors in our kitchens, menus and recipes were all hand written. I have boxes and boxes of these things in my celler, many bound in binders that someday I hope to put on my computor. For the last 10 or 12 years i've been writting all my menus on the putor and creating appropriate files and backing them up on a floppy disc.

It's funny, sometimes i'll go down to my celler, open a bottle of wine and spend a couple hours looking back on all these things that made up the first 15 years of my career, it's great fun and brings back some wonderful memories for me.

All my work from The School for American Chefs is all hand written or typed,6 recipes per season was just one of the criteria to be considered for the scholership, I love to look at those from there inception to the final recipes and methodes.

Keep notes, there so worth the time.
Joined Mar 23, 2004
Funny, I was looking at my notebook that I had while I was training and I could still see the stains! I remember clearly that I was mentally peeved that a greasy thumbprint sat over the amount of oil needed for the recipe.... :p
I do have and use my notebook, but really, it is more applicable for me to jot it down on a piece of paper or napkin and then type it on the pc. For me, that's easier, but I do have a notebook when I am learning something new, whether that is a recipe or managerial ideas.
Joined Apr 13, 2004
I jot stuff down on napkins etc. and transfer recipes to a pocket size durable book in permanent ink.


Joined Apr 23, 2004
Write it in the the crap book and then save it on a floppy or on my computer.
Joined Apr 6, 2004
If you're a Pc user...micro$oft has a program called oneNOTE's a good program if you use windows. You're able to search through all your notes and put them in certain catagories...many features...pretty powerful.

A friend of mine has used this program to organize his Thesis.
Joined Nov 29, 2001
Mine is one of my recycled binders from Peter Kump's - the cooking school I attended. The sheets are printed from my computer where I store recipes I've created. Of course, there are hand written notes all over them. I put the sheets in those 3 hole punched sheet protectors with pocket tops. There are also slips of paper on which impromptu recipes get born slipped into the sheet protectors.

There's so much schmutz on the front of the binder...LOL.
Joined Mar 9, 2004
Gone to a PDA. Used TONS of paper over the course of my career. Have embraced the electronic age(saves trees too!).
I transfer all the files to my desktopo at home. All my ordering and scheduling is done on it.
Joined Aug 11, 2000
There are several past clients that have extensive descriptions of dishes.....
I have some basic recipes from classes and then of course the huge sheets from last summer that are the notes from Farm Camp.....I just passed along menus and invites to events/dinners I've chaired for the past 9 years.
One computer ate my wild mushroom book in progress...I've not gotten past that....
So not only are there 2 computers with recipes, but discs and real paper.
It's more important for me now to keep up with contracts and proposals....gleening from them
There are probably a hundred or so recipes that are measured but WAY more food combinations...I do pull out plain paper and do plate drawings when I'm at an exceptional restaurant. I just gave old menus away....many dating back to the 70's :)
Joined Mar 9, 2004
I hear ya......Too much info. Fortunately, I'm blessed (or cursed) with a photographic memory. I finesse, cajole, coaxe, or ultimately beat the food into submission.
It all works out in the end.
Joined Apr 24, 2004
I brought a laminator (sad but true :eek: )
Anything of real importance gets laminated, that way I can scan it to make new copies.
I've got lots of scruffy old books and notepads, I've transfered the information onto my computer but cannot bring myself to get rid of the books!
Joined Apr 28, 2003
I hand write most of my learned recipes or have them writen in my palm pilot which has now failed on me. But all is backed up in my computer and is then backed up on CD 2x/year. Its a pretty good system for me and ensures that I don't loose anything. I don't have much and have only implimented this habit last year. I will be replacing my palm pilot soon before I return to school along with a new battery for my laptop and a better storage notebook for my writen recipes. It pays to keep these things protected.
Joined May 26, 2004
I used to keep a notebook with recipes and notes but, as i became more experienced I found it less useful and let my experimenting and creativity play with the recipes. Now I just look at the recipe and kind of flashes in my head and if I'm going to make it I can recall it, before Happy hour!
Joined Dec 19, 2003
I always have my tattered little notebook. In my restaurant we have master recipe books because the place has been open for over ten years and we have a lot of repeat business that expects a very consistent product. But my tattered little notebook contains notes for specials (and the specials definitely aren't in the recipe files), minutes of meetings with my executive chef, plate maps, little ideas that come over me suddenly, and unfortunately the occasional necessary documentation of conflict or inappropriate/illegal conduct that I encounter in the workplace. I write down as much as I can, though to some extent it's impossible to make notes of everything, and if you try to do so, you find yourself chained to a pen and paper, whereas the job requires you to be more chained to the pan and spoon. I love my tattered little notebook, and I'm currently on #5 in three years. One day I will take some time and transcribe all of it onto my computer ... maybe it'll turn into the book I've been meaning to write for so long! :p

My current tattered little notebook has a plastic cover which is warped from sitting in the hot window too long ... its pages are splattered, stained, torn, and sometimes illegible. Each of the pages which deal with daily briefings from the executive chef have a little cartoon in the corner ... either a fish or a pig, depending on whether I'm assigned to cook seafood or meat that day. The back cover has long since fallen off. It's dear to me. I'd still be able to function if I lost it, but I'd miss the cartoons and special recipes, for sure. It's nice to have detailed documentation of a special you ran six months ago.


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Joined Oct 5, 2001
I have always kept a notebook as I simply cannot remember everything. I still have my notebook from my externship at the Four Seasons when I was in cunlinary school so many years ago. To this day I still use receipes from that notebook. My most treasured notebook is the one I kept while I was in Europe it is near and dear to my heart. In it I have drawings of the ravioli techinques the little old Italian ladies used to make the raviolis, and much much more. I find it is a great way to track your learning as well.

Great topic!
Joined Apr 28, 2003
Keeping notes on everything you make is the best way to keep a record of everything you do or are suppose to remember because theres so much to know and remember, its overwhelming. I've kept all my collection of recipes and notes from school, thats 5 years of material on paper, now safe in a leather zippered binder/folder. I would also like to convert most, if not all, of my commonly used recipes in digital format.
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