Ina Garten was a guest on today’s show. She had this to say about gender differences in the kitchen:
“I think men tend to approach recipes differently than women. I think men tend to just throw things into pots. And I’m speaking for myself, not all women, but I follow a recipe exactly. Until I decide to change it.”
For me, recipes and cookbooks are more about inspiration than anything else. I tend to avoid the narrow confines of a “recipe” and generally follow my Italian great-grandmother's approach to making food: take handfuls of things and throw them into a pan with ample amounts of butter until whatever you’re making “looks right,” or stall until your guests have consumed enough wine that the dish “tastes adequate.” After all, you’re supposed to have fun with cooking. And what could be more entertaining at a dinner party than the occasional oil fire?
Still, I'm just one male cook and I’m not sure if my culinary philosophy proves Ina's theory about gender differences correct. So I surveyed the women who work on the Lopate Show to find out if they view cooking more as an art or a science:
When I’m using recipes, which is most of the time, I follow the recipe at least once; mainly because – theoretically – the recipe has been created and tested by the writer and so it should work. Then, based on what I end up with, I may tweak the recipe or throw it in the “never again” pile.
When I’m making something I’ve made before or that’s similar to a recipe I’m familiar with, I don’t usually follow recipes exactly. Lately I’ve stopped measuring most ingredients because I can eyeball things pretty well, and if I want to add more of one ingredient and less of another, I don’t worry about what the recipe says. But when I’m making something complicated or something I’ve never made before, I usually follow the recipe pretty closely. And with baking, I measure and follow recipes closely—the proportions of things matter more.
If it’s a recipe I’m doing for the first time, I follow it pretty exactly – especially with baking things. But then I’ll experiment. And if I don’t have a particular ingredient, I’ll use what I have around, instead. For instance, when I’d run out of parsley for veal scaloppini, I “made do” with dill – and it was even better. I find I want to see how the recipe was “supposed” to be and get that right, before I make it my own. But, with baking, since it’s more of a science, I tend to follow the steps.
While this survey his hardly a scientific sampling, the Barefoot Contessa appears to be roughly right—at least when it comes to my co-workers. Fortunately, I never bake for these people.