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A Recipe for Change: Tamie Cook on Recipe Writing

A recipe is so much more than a list of ingredients and instructions. Well-written recipes are an amalgamation of each writer’s own history, scholarship and personal taste. Recipes written with a respect fortamie_cook both ingredients and source are unmistakably different in not only taste, but the feelings evoked in their preparation and enjoyment.

Tamie Cook is a chef, food stylist, teacher, writer, recipe developer and caterer, and she will lead a session called “Recipe Writing: Telling Your Story” at the 18th Annual Georgia Organics Conference, Recipe for Change: Better Farms, Better Flavors, which will be held on Feb. 20-21, 2015, at the Classic Center in Athens, Ga. We talked to Cook about the value of a good recipe, paying tribute to food producers, and her first-ever favorite recipe.

Do you remember the first recipe you ever loved? Yes. It was my mother’s recipe for no-bake, chocolate oatmeal cookies.  I loved it because it was so simple, even I could do it.  It was delicious. I, of course, realize now that it was not my mother’s recipe and that virtually, every middle class, southern woman made these cookies at one time or another. Most everyone kept the pantry ingredients on hand and had milk and butter in their refrigerator. Ironically, I was in a fancy bakery not too long ago and saw these same cookies in the case, labeled as ‘Gluten-free’ selling for $2.00 a piece. I thought, my mother would think anyone who pays that much for one of those cookies, has ‘way more money than sense.’

What’s the value of a good recipe? I guess that depends on what you mean by ‘good’.  I will take that to mean, one that works the way it is written with a successful result. First and foremost in my mind, is that a good recipe has the ability to enable someone to successfully feed themselves by their own hand.  I think we leave this to others way too often. It can give someone a sense of accomplishment. The opposite being a bad recipe, that will fail, no matter who is attempting it because it is poorly written.

After feeding ourselves, the value can often lie in the story, the history, the who and why. A good recipe has the potential to take us on a journey to, maybe places we’ve never been or possibly, in the case of family recipes, back to places we once knew so well.

What are some signs that a recipe has been thoroughly tested? I would say the number one thing to look for is that all of the ingredients listed in the the ingredient list, are mentioned in the instructions or body of the recipe. If not, it’s sloppy and someone has not taken the time to edit closely. Also, detailed descriptions of how things look, feel, sound.  If someone has tested the recipe, they will have this information and hopefully include this in the instructions.

You mentioned it’s possible for recipes to have “respect for both ingredients and source”—what does that entail? “First, do no harm.” If you have beautiful, heirloom tomatoes in July at the height of the season, and you make stewed tomato sauce for a lasagna, you’re missing the point of those tomatoes.  Also, in a class I’ve been teaching for the past 8 years, when we sit down at the table, we thank everyone, by name. Everyone we know who had something to do with that food being on our table.  Headnotes of recipes can and should pay tribute to the source.

You’ve been to the Georgia Organics conference before. What are you looking forward to the most this year? I’m really looking forward to being in Athens.  I’ve not had a chance to explore the food in Athens as much as I would have liked, so I’m looking forward to that.  Also, the Farmer’s Feast is always the highlight of the conference for me!


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