Quite definitely there are only two types of cooks, recipe cooks and no-recipe cooks. Although I definitely fall quite gracefully and squarely into the latter category, this is not intended to imply one type of cook is better than the other. From many years of experience eating, I can assure all that there are very good, (and very bad), cooks in both categories. I think the reason for this division of cooks is the same as divisions in other types of people. It is sort of a right-brain/left-brain thing. The difference usually becomes more evident in people as they get older. New or younger cooks tend to make much more use of recipes since they are learning the subtleties of food preparation. Some people say if you grew up in a home with a parent who was an enthusiastic cook and who let you “help”, the type of cook you are may have been determined before you were aware of it. I don’t believe this. You may have learned to cook at Mom or Dad’s side, but your personality will determine which category you end up in as an adult.
Now please don’t think I have anything against cookbooks! Even though I am a no-recipe cook, I love and own many cookbooks. I also use and follow recipes when “baking”, but I believe baking is a very different activity than cooking. Baking requires fairly strict adherence to ingredients, amounts, and baking times. I believe cooking penalizes the close following of recipes by inhibiting your growth and development as a cook. It can be educational to follow a recipe exactly and can help you learn how different ingredients work together. But when preparing most food, blindly following a recipe will limit your food experience and education.
Perhaps the most important determiner of which cook type you are has nothing to do with any intent to follow a recipe. Those of us that are in the no-recipe category simply cannot easily follow directions when cooking. I think this is why I really do very little baking and yet cook almost all my other food every day of the week and love to cook for groups of people. Although I prepare almost all of my food without opening a cookbook at all, when I do use books, the process goes something like this. I will gather an armload of my cookbooks and sit down and read about what I am thinking of making. Then I will put the books away and go to work using the general, overall knowledge I just read over. The result that makes it to my plate often is very different that anything in the cookbooks, but was indeed influenced by those recipes.
Most of the time, however, I never even glance at the cookbook shelf and meals turn out just great. Often the meal that ends up being prepared has more to do with what is in the fridge or garden that with any pre-planned thought of what I want to eat. And if you ever have dinner with me, please don’t ask for the recipe or even how I made what you are eating. I simply will not know. I can never make exactly the same thing twice because the process evolves differently each time. I don’t pay close attention to what I am doing; the food just seems to evolve as I go. Often, even immediately after the cooking is done, I can’t remember all the ingredients, how much and in what order things were used, or how long I cooked the food!
What type of cook are you? Do you follow recipes or do you usually fly solo? If you do open a cookbook, is it usually 3 or 4 books and then just to get an overall idea about what you are planning? Or do you look for a recipe you think looks good and then follow it exactly? Do you think, like I believe, that people who love to cook have no choice which type of cook they are? Lots of questions I know, but please let me know what you think. This is something I have not really though much about before, but most people do cook and many of you are great cooks I am sure. The question is which of the two types of cook are you?