Recipe: to share or not to Share December 28, 2009

sharing recipes1 Sharing recipes is a very natural and human gesture not only among friends and family but also among virtual strangers.  Just type your ingredient or desired dish on google and presto, you get pages and pages of results.  That’s what I like about the Internet.  It lives and breathes democracy in the sense that everyone, regardless of their station in life, has free and unlimited access to any kind of information they need to make their lives easier.

Question for you:  what do you think of people who refuse to share their recipes?

I have a story…

My brother and I were invited to Christmas dinner on the 25th.  I had made some chicken with rosemary, molasses bread, and a chocolate cake as my "contribution".  My friend did not ask me to bring anything but I never want to go to a party empty-handed (in our culture, pot luck dinners are not common; it would be unthinkable to invite friends and then ask them to bring a dish).

My friend prepared food like she was feeding an army; there were only about five guests and counting the friends of their kids, we were about 10 people.  But it was a dinner table laden with abundance.  My friend suggested we start with a Vietnamese soup.  Divine!  It sure hit the spot.  Then my friend suggested we try the salad because she was sure we would go gaga over it.  We did.

I went back for a second and third serving of the Vietnamese salad because it was refreshing and light.  I detected a hint of lime juice, some mint and I think there were sesame seeds or chopped peanuts in it.  It’s a salad I could eat everyday and I told myself I would add this salad to my collection.  It’s even better than the celery root salad I fell in love with years before and which I continue to make.

When my friend stopped puttering about in the kitchen and sat with us, I complimented her on the salad.  She said, "no, I didn’t make it.  My friend did.  I wish I could make it myself." 

"So why don’t you ask her for the recipe and that way you can pass it on to me?"

My friend shook her head vigorously.  "I asked her a few times but she won’t share it with me.  She said she’d be happy to make it for me but there was no way she was going to let me have the recipe."

How selfish, I thought.  But then I remembered that this was the same friend who owned a restaurant.  For someone who makes a living cooking for others and serving exotic and delicious meals, I understand the top secrecy.

Restaurant owners have a right to not divulge their recipe secrets – the same way that Coca-Cola never divulged the secret cola formula that made the soft drink a hit the world over.

After my brother and I left the party, I was still savouring the taste of that wonderful Vietnamese salad.  I was also wondering why non-restaurant owners do act like Scrooge when it comes to sharing recipes.  There must be a sociological explanation for it.

I’m sure the Internet would give me the answer. 

One writer said that people don’t share recipes because the recipe was probably handed to them from a family member who has since passed away.  It could be that while that person was on her or his deathbed, the family was made to swear never to give the recipe to anyone.

Another reason – the obvious one – is that people with commercial food interests have to protect their rights.  The recipe that makes their restaurant or catering business so successful is a real asset.  This one I understand perfectly. 

There are also those who share it only halfway just to make the asker shut up; meaning, they give out an incomplete list of ingredients.  They leave out the one ingredient that makes a world of difference.  Or they omit a step, modifying the cooking time or the technique.

My take on the matter is if you’re going to share an "altered" recipe, don’t share it at all.  It’s dishonest.  It’s unkind.  It’s uncharitable.  Be honest and say you can’t share it. 

Like 98% of the human population, I like sharing recipes…and I go out of my way to share the essential tips that would make the dish more delicious.  Most times, the success of a dish does not depend on the ingredients and procedures.  The secret lies in the "tips."  For instance, oyster sauce is a common ingredient in Asia.  But there are certain brands that have a distinct flavor and when added to certain ingredients, bring out the best of the dish.  When a recipe calls for oyster sauce for example, my tip would be to mix it first with a bit of water so that the taste isn’t too strong or concentrated.  Much will depend on the kind of dish you’re making.  I like to douse my vegetables with oyster sauce, but I wouldn’t pour it into the skillet directly.  I’d put a small amount in a small bowl and add water, whisking it so they blend completely.  These little steps do make a difference.

Going back to this lady who doesn’t share her recipes, her restaurant closed down by the way.  I won’t say that her refusal to share recipes caused the business to fold up, but it sort of confirms the sentiment that when you learn to share, what goes around comes around.  And when you don’t share, that selfishness could have disastrous consequences.  Bad karma perhaps?

sharing recipe2 Eating is a real pleasure.  Why not make others happy by sharing your recipes?

From Calvin Trillin:  "The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers.  The original meal has never been found."