The importance of an original secret recipe book
During my years as a culinary student, one of the most valuable lessons I learned was to build a personalized secret recipe book. A secret recipe book is a small binder full of solid recipe resources you can walk into any professional situation with, armed with successfully tested recipes and useful ratios. What started as a school project has now become a functional way for me to stay organized at work and at home.
The version we completed in school featured categories like basic sauce and stock recipes, vegetable recipes and starch recipes. We also had a category for $10,000 recipes, basic recipe formulas that are worth their weight in gold based on effectiveness in the kitchen. You may think that's an exaggeration, but it's invaluable to have a basic crepe batter recipe to turn to when your boss unexpectedly asks you to make crepes on the fly. Especially when your restaurant has no recipe book on-site, your phone definitely has no service in the kitchen to look it up on the internet, and you have under 7 minutes to complete the task before orders start to roll in. And just like that, your secret recipe book saves the day!
This technique can certainly extend to the home kitchen. How many times have you gone to find that tried and true family recipe (which you keep meaning to memorize) only to be searching in a pile of recipes a few hours away from Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner? Just where is that recipe for your mom's famous cranberry sauce? What about grandpa's epic turkey stuffing? The clock is ticking! Start building a secret recipe book and your future self will thank you.
Since lack of space is an issue in most kitchens, build your book using a small 8.5 x 5.5 three-ring binder which you can easily stash in a locker or on a shelf. And don't forget to invest some money in sheet protectors for splatter protection purposes! Add in some notebook paper and you're set. Overall the startup cost is about $15 for something that's going to make you more efficient and more organized every single day.
Though we all have limited time in the kitchen, establish a routine of getting one recipe a day in your book. Before you know it, you'll build up your volume of resources. If you find yourself the recipient of a ton of verbal recipe instructions in the kitchen, use the Moleskin method: keep a pocket notebook nearby to scribble in and then transfer it to your recipe book later. If you're anything like me, your notes will be much more coherent when you're not thinking about the 200 reservations on the books or your arriving dinner party guests.
In the professional world, many kitchens I have worked in have generously allowed cooks to copy recipes. Each kitchen has its own rules. Either way, remember to research on your own and build a repertoire of recipes that work for you. In the spirit of that idea, here is a link to a recipe gem that I discovered this year while hunting for the perfect ginger cookie to use for an ice cream sandwich. It's an Emily Luchetti recipe via the James Beard Foundation website and I highly recommend adding it to your secret recipe book-- it's already in mine!