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There is no recipe for bread

"Yes there is...."

I told Maria, the head chef, that a friend of mine had been in for a staff Christmas party. My friend had complimented me on the bread that I had made, and wanted to know the recipe. I'd told her that there isn't a recipe — and said that to Maria.

Maria said yes there is — two pounds flour, 25 grams yeast, some-odd weight of salt, and a pint of water.

"Oh, is that it?" I honestly didn't remember what it had been supposed to be.

Maria said not to tell anybody our recipe — "You wouldn't want people all over town to be baking bread that's like ours, would you?"

But I don't care about that. And there is no recipe.

The secret of bread is not in the recipe. Rare is the chef* who can understand this, or who has a "feel" for making excellent bread — all the various recipes, methods, photos and step-by-step resources notwithstanding. This is not to say that the secret of cooking excellent food is in the recipe, either; I know less about that, being myself only adaptable and educable in a kitchen.

But I have a feel for bread. I can explain, to some extent, the process of creating simple bread — it's worth a try. But I don't know why or how I am naturally skilled in that process. I don't know why after ten years of not baking I can find the ability again* after a couple of bakes.

I don't know, either, how well I can explain what it is that makes the process work. But, as I say, it's worth a try.

If somebody else, here in town or elsewhere, is able to benefit from my explication, that's good. If a fellow chef in my restaurant can pick up the skill, and thereby make me dispensable, that's okay too. I might not like it if that happened, but I don't worry about it.

I'm not the only one who feels this way about information. I believe many good chefs, too, are equally liberal with sharing knowledge. It's not to be feared, for those with real talent.

— Spring 2003, Kilkenny Ireland


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* "Chef," by the way, is what you call a cook in an Irish kitchen.

You'da even called me that, in Ireland, when I was dressed up like that and carrying a knife. I'd call myself a "cook," and only that when I happen to have a job doing it.

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* "find the ability again...." Yet, sometimes not. I did not ever regain a feeling of talent or even skill during the whole time I worked at Bakker Arend in Nijmegen, The Netherlands — for half of 2003 and almost all of 2004.

I was never able, either, to bake well at a faux-gourmet wholesale unit-pump in Dublin called Boulangerie des Gourmets.

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