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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Being able to follow a recipe doesn’t make you a chef

April 12, 2011

It is easy to fall into the trap of being a copy cat. From infancy we’re trained to become copy cats. Write your alphabet like this, wash your clothes like this, get a job like this, become successful like this! It is all pretty absurd and altogether rather unavoidable in some cases. The trap I speak of doesn’t have anything to do with how we all choose to write our ABCs but rather about making decisions on how we want to accomplish things on our own.

You see, there are tried and true ways of doing things that have stood the test of time. They do not require anyone to rethink them let alone disrupt the way the entire world does them. Yet, it happens all the time (and should). People rethink things that have been done a certain way forever and, in some cases, find a better way but, in most cases, find their own way.

For instance, the very best way to cook a chicken has probably been figured out. Yet, Google can find 13.6 million recipes on how to cook a chicken. Why? Because there is no wrong way to cook a chicken. The right way to cook a chicken is how you want it.

What is my point? The trap of being a copy cat in anything in life is that it will lead to an inability to think for yourself. You’ll end up gauging whether or not something is good based on whether or not someone else does it. “Well, Chef John doesn’t put thyme on his chicken so I guess I won’t put any on mine.” That is ridiculous and sad. Whether or not anyone else has ever done something is not a good barometer for whether or not it is good. In fact, many times the fact that others have done something should make you want to try to do something different.

However, you shouldn’t ignore other people’s failures. If others have tried things that have ultimately failed you have less reason to take a stab at it yourself. Sure, you can succeed where others have failed but that is a decision you should make with a lot of data rather than guessing or taking a big risk. You’re probably not special, if others have failed at something you might too.

I use this cooking analogy because a good chef does exactly what I’m describing. They know the rules of taste and, within that spectrum, they try innumerable permutations of a recipe until they create something that satisfies them. They don’t create a restaurant’s menu by wondering what their fellow chef would make. They make their own menu.

If you want to see how thyme tastes on chicken throw some on. Be willing to take risks and to try something no one has ever done before. Make decisions for yourself and become “a chef” in whatever you do.