Why Can't Chefs Be Specific

Joined Jan 1, 2001
I just finished a shoot with a celebrity chef that promotes his new cookbook. We had to prepare a whole bunch of recipes from the book that call for things like 2 red onions, diced or 1 large carrot, diced or 1 loaf bread, cubed. I caught no end of living "H E double chopsticks" because the food didn't look like he expected. The cubes of bread were too large, there was too much onion, the dices were too small and on and on.
It just seems to me that if you are going to write a cookbook and expecting consumers to cook from it, you could give them a little more information about what size onion to use -is it 2" in diameter or 5"? Are the bread cubes 1/2" square or 1/4"? Hopefully, the editor had caught some of these inconsistencies and fixed them in the final proof.
Am I just a control freak? Or are these guys just publishing cookbooks to boost their egos?
Joined Jan 5, 2001
I think a lot of chefs are capitalising of the boom in cookbook sales and producing just about anything to get known. They are pricey, have a short shelflife, but it gets the name out there and while it lasts, there's good money to be made. And yes, I really think that most of it is crap. I wish they'd spend a bit more time testing out the recipes and better understanding their target market...

Joined Jul 31, 2000

I do understand your frustration.

If a chef is going to write a book and sell it to the public then it needs to be user friendly.

I think Chefs,Like anyone have different levels of writting ability,and i think many chefs that get into the public arena are expected to write a book.

We are cooks not writters of novels,so we should be supported in this undertaking by the publishers who want our name on there roster.
I do also agree that many books hit the selves that do not belong there,very little regard for the writtin word and that translate to the person who buys there book.

I think many chefs,me included have been cooking for so long that when we ask someone to do something, (dice,chop whatever) we expect them to understand.

This is were we fall short at times and need to be more specific in our needs.
I'm ranting,sorry
Joined Nov 14, 2001
I would have to say that Cape Chef is correct. I remember apprenticeships and the chef expects u oh wait demands u to be able to cook to his ability. I relize that in some cases this is impossible, but the person who is cooking should have some idea about it because alot of books out there are not for "the home chef" but for proffessionals. For example the one book that every chef knows is Le guilde Culinar by Esscoffier but there are no measurements in this book, only a list of ingredients.
Yes i agree we are hard to understand sometimes and may be to demanding but we are also perfectionists.
Also please forgive my spelling for i'm a cook not a english major,lol.


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
LOL monpetitchoux! That's a good one! I wonder how many people at home cook really cook out of the French Laundry cookbook. I got it just to have the pictures.

I think it's unreasonable to demand that something looks the same way as originally conceived. This is especially true of artistic creations. Nobody can see things through the eyes of the artist. This sounds like a case of "I can do it and you can't see how good I am."

Joined Aug 11, 2000
I've been on St Louis Culinary Board with Barbara Gibbs Ostmann who wrote a book on how to write recipes. A few years ago I was writing a wild mushroom cookbook and wanted Barb to edit it......for a mydrid of reasons it never got that far. But what I learned was know your cooking audience, who is your book geared toward. Barb even says for the general public saute is cook over high heat stirring all the while.....
I prefer using and writing recipes that have directions next to the ingrediants not just a list of ingrediants then the steps.
That is out of favor....
Through trying to gather recipes for the market each week...I learned most chefs don't use recipes, don't automatically think of formats (ie this is what is available at the market, YOU are cooking in the street sans electricity on two burners)
It also thrills me to see how they enjoy it once they've done it.
God love um, they just have to have clear communication about who their audience is.....and then talk them through what you want them to communicate....I help the less verbal ones talk throughout the demo. So Foodnfoto, I say read through a recipe your there to create if it is not clear, call the chef or if they can't be reached their assistant. The publicist should also hear that it costs more money to repeat set ups and to avoid that in the future you need to walk through it with whoever wrote it.
Joined Mar 6, 2001
I can totally see how you'd get frustrated with that footnfoto. I really would have thought the chef would have some contact through out a photo shoot. I think the photographs totally sell books!! Maybe not to professional chefs but a really well selling book crosses over to the general public.

Perhaps I'm also too much of a control freak but I can't help but think it's really stupid of them not to find the time to particapate with such a crucial last step in their book. Even if that book is geared toward pro.s only. Do you want to be the laughing stock if the food stylist presents a childish presentation?

One more thing (sorry I have so many opinions and tons of free time to post them, but)....I truely believe this and have noticed it at every job.
1. Chefs who don't follow recipes create inconsistant products and their staff usually can't come close to reproducing his results when there's such loose dirrection. (A quick disclaimer, I'm not refering to chefs in the top fine dining establishments, but I am talking about the MAJORITY of chefs in this world).
2. These types of chefs also seem to always reach for the same seasonings, cook everything the same way and so on. They make you taste test their work and every darn thing tastes the same. It drives me nuts.

Many times theres an arogance about using cookbooks. I watched my last chef HIDE when he was looking at cookbooks, as if it was a weakness.
Joined May 1, 2001
"Cooking without a recipe" has its pitfalls for the non-professional home cook as well. Many times I've gone out, bought what looked nice and fresh, improvised a recipe and produced something really good -- only to realize, when asked to repeat the dish, that I couldn't!

Lately, I've been forcing myself to make notes when I do this sort of thing. The notes go into a file folder so I have an outside change of reproducing the recipe.
Joined Jan 1, 2001
Here's a little more detail that paint a clearer picture of what a faker this "celebrity" chef is-
This was a promotional video shoot. The book has already been published. All I was given to work from were photo copies of recipes from the book. The recipes were written in such a way as to leave them wide open to different interpretaions.
My problem is that if a chef is going to do that, why get all hot and bothered when it appears different from how you concieved it?
Also, 2 onions finely diced can lead to widely varying flavor and look in the end product. An onion can range from being 2" in diameter (yielding about 1/3 cup diced) to 5-6" in diameter (yielding 1 1/4-1 1/2 cups diced). Why set your reader up to fail by simply being vague and inaccurate in your directions? It doesn't help to sell future cookbooks, in my mind.
I can understand this in the restaurant setting, but in a publication? Cookbooks are promotional vehicles only. They do not make the author any money considering the time it takes to produce one (except in rare cases like "The Cake Mix Doctor").
Joined Nov 14, 2001
your right, it sounds to me that the chef is just trying to make money as fast as he can. It's sad to see someone demean the proffession by throwing on a coat and calling themselves a chef. Anyone can right a recipe is what some ppl tell me obviosly that's not true.
Joined Oct 28, 2001
Well I've tried a few things out of the French Laundry and they are are not easy, especially as some of the instructions are blatantly wrong, especially for the home chef. If you are willing to research around the recipes then the results are fabulous, but the book is not for the beginner or the timid. A British magazine, Good Housekeeping, recently did a test of celebrity chef's recipes on criteria like accuracy and they all failed to some extent, the most common complaint was that the cooking times were almost always too short. Cookbooks are hard and even if the chef, personality or no, is excellent it doesn't mean that the written word will reflect the style well enough that the average reader can come close to an acceptable result.
Joined May 29, 1999
Thanks for the eye opener! I am doing a demo on Monday night and I sent the store just lists of ingredients and amounts. No prep or really direction. I sent what I have in my personal book. I will make up full explenations for each packet and maybe the folks attending will pay more attention to what I am doing and less to taking notes!:roll:
Joined Mar 9, 2000
That's why you get professional trade books like the CIA Professional Chef and get the Celeb Books for the pictures and ideas. You have to know how to cook or some of these recipes just don't work out, like the Martha Stewart mag, some of these recipes are....well....like I was saying.:rolleyes:
Joined Oct 13, 2001
Hi folks , I feel that it is not so much the quality of the cookbook that makes the dish but it is the quality of the chef . If the chef has been properly trained and has a strong foundation then the cookbook will realy not hold any fantastic suprises . I am a collector of all different kinds of cookbooks and I use them more as a source for concepts and ideas , I never take them to the exact letter of the writer though as when you do read a lot of the recipes you can tell some things just dont sound right . I apologize for your celebrity chefs behavior as the most important thing in any book is the contents , and an educational book should reflect the most accurate descriptions possible as a lot of people purchasing it are not proffesional chefs and will translate the recipes verbatem . We all enjoy making a good living but the majority of chefs I know will always stick to there integrity when it comes to talking and selling food . Remember, us chefs do not all walk with nose in air ( and head up ***** ) .
Joined Mar 9, 2000
As far as the arrogance thing goes just think about what we do and it should bring you back down. WE COOK! It is domestic, yes artistic, and at times refined and elegant, but we cook and cooking feeds people, its gotta come from the heart and not just the head, and you have to love people.

I once spoke to one of my instructors at a CIA course about a certain Michelin starred chef who cursed, and swore, and physically abused his crew. I would have worked for him about 20 minutes. Talent or no talent, people are more important than food and robbing them of dignity is wrong, whether writing a cookbook or directing a kitchen.
Top Bottom