The problem with recipes

Recipes enable us to make a virtual replica of photo food or a scripted result. But the problem with recipes is three-fold. In fact, recipes are a set up.

For one, recipes teach us that shortcuts work. Instead of doing the hard work of experimentation, the measuring, trying, failing, and succeeding that are so educational, we learn to rely on the accuracy of the information given to us. This is why food manufacturers can add their own branded products into recipes. It’s why for decades we didn’t question what ‘modified food starch’ actually meant. (By extension, it’s also why we don’t recognize physical reactions to GMO foods. They said to use it, so it must be safe, right?)

Two, since recipes contain precisely measured ingredients, we lose the opportunity to develop our instincts. If your mixture is too thick, add liquid. If you’re not a precise person, your result will be disappointing. Your food won’t look like the picture. If your goop is too thin, add starch. Or xanthan gum. It won’t taste like it did in the restaurant. The recipe doesn’t provide permission. Of course, you could add a little more of this and some extra ingredients. Yes, it will throw the whole thing off, but invention is the mother of all surprise. Recipes reduce surprise.

Finally, photographed food is usually styled and lit to look absolutely perfect, and your rendition probably will look nothing like it. Disappointing perhaps, but you could snap some of your own photos and glue them in the book over the expensive shots.

Anyone can cook great tasting food. Professional chefs do it with more artistry and panache. You won’t win any awards for 1-1/2-inch pancakes, but you might be surprised by how great they taste.

By the way, if you’re following a recipe for business or marketing success, you’re in trouble. More on that later.

Kelly Hobkirk - teaching marketers how to harness strategy, goals, reality, and purpose to connect and do better work.


Kelly Hobkirk has been helping companies succeed in creative ways for nearly 25 years. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, and books by Rockport and Rotovision. Get exclusive articles when you sign up for his monthly newsletter.

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