What Type of Cook Are You?

by updated 2011/05/24

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?

Will Sig
1 Julio

Will,
Loved reading your post.
I myself don’t cook too much. I love the “cooking”, and am pleased to see the results afterwards. It is rewarding.
Many times I look for recipes in the internet, as people also comment about certain plate.
I prefer to read a few recipes dealing with a certain plate, get the idea, print the recipes, and then get into the kitchen. I follow the general rules, sometimes combining ingredients.
I also tend to improvise, and simply “feel” what the plate should contain. Kind of picture in my mind, you can call it.
I can say, I love to create, and to see the results right afterwards.
Enjoy your cooking…..
Julio.
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2 Will

Hi Julio – I like that: “Get the idea and get into the kitchen”! Thanks for the contribution.

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3 Binky

I never really thought about it before, but I’m actually both kinds. It must have to do with my left brain-right brain split personality. (I remember taking one of those tests many years ago, and I ended up right in the middle.)

I use recipes for new things, or just throw some ingredients together at other times. I guess I’m not a very good example!
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4 Will

Emotion vs logic eh? Sort of like recipe vs make it up. A mid brain person? Must be a Wombat thing.

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5 Binky

Probably more like a mixed-up brain person!

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6 Tishia Lee

I’m the burn everything whether you follow a recipe or not type of cook. Ok so maybe it’s not that bad but seriously the kitchen and I don’t get along!
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7 Will

Welcome Tishia – I don’t believe there is such a thing as a person who can’t learn to cook. But if you don’t like to cook, that is not a recipe for success. I bet you are a great dinner guest though so let your kitchen loving friends do the cooking!

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8 Karen

I was wandering around the Internet and came across your blog. I love to cook and bake. And I have to say I loved reading this post. When it comes to cooking I just kinda wing it and it all comes out lovely. I did something with chicken, pene, rosemary, and lemon juice the other night that I fell in love with but could never hope to recreate exactly, but with baking I’m very strict with one exception: bread. I don’t know what it is about bread, but I just can’t make myself follow a bread recipe. It always ends up lovely though.

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9 Will

Hi Karen – That dish does sound good. “Winging it” with chicken! Funny about the bread. I do the same thing and it usually turns out great but I always read it is so important to follow bread recipes exactly. One of my favorite breads is a whole wheat round loaf that I pretty much made up. Very good with a hard crust. Happy you found this site!

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10 Linda

Will, I have to say I cook exactly the same way as you and had to laugh at when you said you pull out am armload of cookbooks to check but them put them away before jumping in. Me too. I have this theory your dish can only be as good as the recipe, but if you deviate, it could be better. And there are many ingredients I would never use. Now days my “go-to” reference are books by Harold McGee, the food science writer. By learning why certain techniques and ingredients produce certain results, I can apply them to achieve what I want. He’s brilliant.
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11 Will

I like that Linda – “if you deviate, it could be better”. I had never heard of Harold McGee. I Googled him and his stuff looks interesting. I read the NYT Magazine every week, but don’t get or read the NYT itself so I have not seen his column. If I have time to read one of his books, which one would you recommend?
* On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
* The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore
* Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes, a compendium of practical information on food and cooking.

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12 Linda

I have a copy of “On Food and Cooking,” so can only speak for that. I don’t think I could ever sit down and read it from beginning to end, but I do use it to really “get” how to treat a food or if I want to know more about an ingredient. He helped me understand why mayo is harder to make with olive oil than veg oil, as well as the trick to making hollandaise, which recipes don’t tell you. It’s a huge book covering everything you might imagine on cooking and ingredients. There’s even a section comparing every kind of salt.
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13 Anna

Will, lol, on this one: ‘From many years of experience eating’. You know we must be related, because I do the same with cookbooks, but I never follow it, and even if I do, I have to leave trace of my personal touch. You are right about baking. I look baking more as chemistry, because sometimes needs to be exact. I say sometimes, because I was successful with modifying baking recipes to my own, and being successful on the every trial, until I really went over board and the last trail usually is terrible – but I keep the log book, which helps me to trace back. This is excellent write up Will, enjoyed it very much. And by the way, thanks for the wishes. Anna :)
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14 Will

Hi Anna – I just wrote that without thought and did not even recognize your quote. I went back up and read what I wrote and have to say it is a good one! I suppose everyone of the same age has the same number of years experience eating!

You keep a log book of your cooking? Wow! That is something I have never even thought of. I don’t think I have ever even once written down something I have cooked. Maybe I should. But you know my kids all cook now too and I never remember teaching them anything about it. My oldest daughter seems to be a more exacting, recipe, type of cook. My son cooks just like me. I don’t think I have ever seen him look at a cookbook though. My youngest daughter is very busy and sort of utilitarian cook. Cooks because she is hungry!

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15 Hillary

I am both it really depends on what I want to make. I will go traditional and do it in my head or I will try something new and use a cookbook. I really enjoy cooking though.
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16 Tony McGurk

I am a recipe cook but sometimes mostly an “ask my wife” kinda cook. Some simple things I can cook without assistance like eggs & bacon or toast & vegemite. I have had a few no recipe successes & also plenty of disasters.

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17 Will

Hmm. Once again I had to use Google and found this:

Vegemite is a dark brown Australian food paste made from a yeast extract.

Hope it tastes better than it sounds!

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18 Tony McGurk

It’s black gunky tar looking stuff that is a bit salty but it tastes great
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19 Will

Hmm. Black, gunky, salty, tar looking stuff. Like many things, I read that it is an acquired taste. Why you would want to acquire it is another question! Spoken like a true, peanut butter eating Yankee, I’m sure. ;-)

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20 Tony McGurk

You need to acquire the taste because it is such great stuff!!! We get fed Vegemite right from babyhood so we grow up with it as a normal part of life, unlike Brussel Sprouts which Mum forced on us too. Both my sister & I grew to hate them & still do. I too love peanut butter sandwiches, with jam (I think you call it jelly) on them too

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21 Tony

It’s black gunky tar looking stuff that is a bit salty but it tastes great
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22 Tony

I am a recipe cook but sometimes mostly an “ask my wife” kinda cook. Some simple things I can cook without assistance like eggs & bacon or toast & vegemite. I have had a few no recipe successes & also plenty of disasters.
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23 Anne

Uhm … am I invited? :-)

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24 Will

Sure!

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25 Sally

Oh boy, I am a solo cook. I do try to follow recipes but I always end up adding or taking away something. Wonderful blog.

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26 Will

Hi Sally – And I bet your end result is great!

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27 Rob

Very much a member of the ‘suck it and see’ school of cookery. Love the organic process of watching a meal develop using ingredients grown ourselves.
Cook books remain indispensable though, with no book more indispensable than ‘Leiths Vegetarian Bible’. Can’t recommend it highly enough.
Rob
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28 Will

I found a first edition of that book on Amazon listed as new condition for $504.37 plus 3.99 shipping. What’s up with that????

I also found the most recent edition at several sellers for between $36.00 and $101.00. Something must be unusual about the book.

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29 Rob

Leiths Veg Bible is one of a small number of cookery books in which every recipe is successful. Grab a copy!! Rob
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30 John

Saw that and had to look myself. Yep those prices are really at Amazon. Puzzling.

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31 julie

I do both as well. New, complicated stuff I’ll follow a recipe (or, like you, a combination of a few different recipes) for the first few times, then wing it. Adding too much garlic, not a problem, but adding too much fish sauce can really ruin a meal. Having raised myself on frozen fried chicken, tater tots, English muffins with cheese and plain tomato sauce, and the old standby, canned soup, I was pretty much starting from scratch. Between watching cooking shows on PBS and my cookbooks, and now the internet and youtube, I’m getting pretty good at this stuff.
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32 Will

Hi Julie – Yeah I made the fish sauce mistake the first time too! When you wing it like we sometimes do, we have to learn from our mistakes. If you stick to a recipe, you avoid some of them, but don’t have as much fun.

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33 Steph

I absolutely loved this take on types of cooks. I think I may be one of the few that falls squarely in the middle. I always use a cookbook the first few times I make something. Then once I know it by heart, I start to alter it. I can’t say that is improves anything, but it just what I tend to do.

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34 Jan

I definitely follow a cook book – I truly admire those people who just throw in a bit of this and a handful of that! With cakes and biscuits I would probably never stray from the recipe but with savoury stuff I do change it a bit (but not much). The other thing that I love to do is collect recipes, I have a file of recipes that people have given me over the years that I go through every now and then to chose, and it’s great to remember who gave me what recipe and when – most of them are handwritten which is also a dying art. The other thing that I do is constantly collect recipes from newspapers and magazines. I scan them or cut them out and put them in a flip book then as I use them they are either kept or thrown away so it is constantly changing. I hardly have any “favourites” because there are so many recipes, they become favourites for a while and then get replaced with new faves.
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35 Geena

Hi Will,
I am exactly like Julio! I really like to create and to ‘play’ with food. I find it relaxing.

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