Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Chef's Secret Recipe

My father was a chemist cum executive in the food industry. The corn milling firm he worked for was in the middle rank of a small industry: third or fourth in a field of seven. In the forties he invented instant corn starch pudding. Eventually the product was reproduced by the number one company in the trade. Their deep advertising pockets took the market away from Amaizo.
In later years when we spoke of this, Dad was quick to point out that much effort was required to maintain product consistency. Customers were not interested in a pudding that was too thick one time or too thin the next -- a variation caused by the difference in starch levels in the corn from field to field and year to year. So the formula -- the recipe -- was a matter of constant adjustment to insure uniformity. This process was a matter of precise measurement and careful control of equipment after thorough analysis.
When I returned from Japan in the late 60's I made a 'yaki soba' out of the ingredients I could find in the local stores where my Mother lived. These did not include any oriental specialties beyond the standard La Choy line. Naytheless I managed to produce a tasty meal which had no trouble disappearing. The problem is that I didn't follow a recipe beyond this: Yaki Soba is a stir fry of meat and vegetables in a light sauce served on noodles. I know onions, garlic, mushrooms, celery and peppers were in it. Chicken stock and a little soy sauce made the sauce. Possibly there was ginger(powder, not root which was hard to find in the heart land in those days). I think I put in canned bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and water chestnuts. Can't remember if the meat was beef or pork, or chicken. Shrimps, too? Some years later my Sister-in-law asked for the recipe. What a head scratcher! I made yaki soba for her, but it wasn't the same as her memory. That was all that would suit. *chagrin*
For these reasons I don't worry about keeping recipes secret. Reproducing a taste experience is exceedingly difficult, and, ultimately (eventually?), boring(IMHO). Naturally other cook's differ and I have no problem honoring their refusal to share a recipe. If I like it well enough I will make my own version. If it is very nice to eat but... That's a good reason to tend the friendship. Else I'll head on to the next culinary event, be it delight, disaster or blah. I like the risk and the challenge to my memory when I succeed. That pays for the failures which are needed for contrast anyway.
-- ml

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