A guest post by Becky Diamond
Writing your own recipe in a clear, concise way that makes sense to readers can be difficult enough. But transcribing and then working on another cook’s recipe, especially one from a professional chef, poses challenges. Not to mention that you must edit chef recipes while keeping a good relationship with the chefs themselves.
For my current book project, The Delmonico Way, I work with fellow epicurean Max Tucci. The book will be published by Rizzoli in the fall of 2022. It includes several chef recipes based on dishes served at Delmonico’s, the iconic New York City restaurant. It has been great fun to interact with these cooking experts and gain an even deeper appreciation of their skills and creativity.
Doing so has helped me learn a few things about how to edit chef recipes. Below I share these tips, which have helped me write and edit recipes well.
Here are 5 best practices for how to edit chef recipes:
1. Ask the chef to give you a written first draft.
With a draft of a recipe, you have a starting point. From here you can talk through the recipe with the chef, and understand the intent. As a result, the recipe will be easier to edit.
If you are unsure about an ingredient or instruction, now is the time to ask. Compile a list of questions in advance, such as “Can you explain this technique in more detail?” and “What size pan should be used here?” Be specific. No question is too minor.
2. Maintain consistency.
I worked with several chefs at once, so it was inevitable that they presented a range of recipe styles and tones. My job was to preserve the voice of the chefs while delivering uniformity in such things as ingredients, measurements, and temperatures.
Following a style guide provided by the publisher has been crucial. It has helped me write consistent instructions and measurements, and lets me flag any unique ingredients that require a shopping note or swap suggestion.
3. If you must use cheffy terms, add more information.
Will the readers of the cookbook know technique words like “chiffonade” and “sweat?” Probably not. Use more common words.
Describing how an ingredient or technique looks or smells gives readers more points of reference to follow. It’s similar to giving locational directions. Using these techniques are especially key for readers who are less experienced in the kitchen. These prompts help boost your readers’ confidence levels, ensuring they are on the right track.
4. Reduce complicated recipe prep and sub recipes.
Chefs are accustomed to working in professional kitchens, where sous-chefs and line cooks assist with shopping, prep and cleanup. Home cooks are more limited with their time and skills. Work with the chef to come up with simplified steps or ingredients, such as using a prepared sauce or canned ingredients. The chef, for example, may expect the reader to shuck oysters. Your job is to represent the target reader and decide whether that is reasonable.
Chefs don’t usually have to clean up the kitchen either. Help readers by suggesting they using the same bowl or pan for another step, to reduce cleanup.
5. Learn from the food stylist.
Assuming your book merits a food stylist, see if you can attend the shoot. Being present at the photoshoot helps you understand the look, feel and tastes of the ingredients, techniques, and final dishes. Collect commentary from the food stylist about what worked and what didn’t work in each recipe. Use this feedback to tweak the instructions accordingly.
Working with chefs can be challenging. They are often passionate and territorial about their work. But I have also found it to be extremely rewarding and instructive. After all, they are typically creative people, not unlike artists or musicians. Their skills enable them to fashion spins on classic recipes and make novel innovations. My opportunity to team with and publish the chef recipes for The Delmonico Way has been an incredible opportunity.
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Becky Libourel Diamond is a food writer and librarian. Her second book, The Thousand Dollar Dinner, is about an 1851 cooking challenge between Philadelphia restaurateur James Parkinson and New York’s Delmonico family. She is also the author of Mrs. Goodfellow: The Story of America’s First Cooking School. Her current projects include The Gilded Age Cookbook and Process: The History of Processed Food (Westholme).
You might also like:
- How to Find Inspiration in Recipe Development
- How I Write High-Performing Recipes for Food52.com
- What I Learned From Cook’s Illustrated about Recipe Development
(Photo courtesy of Clay Banks on Unsplash.)