Cooking Restaurant Meals at Home

Slate has an interesting piece by Lauren Shockey as to whether it is feasible to cook restaurant meals at home using the cook books restaurant chefs author. The article “Cooking Their Books: Trying to re-create restaurant dishes at home” has the author cooking dishes from the cookbooks and then going to the restaurant to eat the same meal prepared by the chefs themselves: “In the spirit of frugality, and for the sake of experimentation (not to mention my hearty appetite), I put my culinary degree to use by preparing recipes from three recently published cookbooks before sampling each dish at its respective restaurant.”

In reading the piece, the one thing which the author keeps mentioning is that all the three dishes looked like the foods in the photographs and all that she had prepared was delicious. However, she keeps highlighting that the meals were not identical to what she ate in the restaurants:

All of the recipes I tested resembled their originals, but none perfectly recreated the restaurant version—not an entirely surprising verdict. As Kenny Shopsin writes in Eat Me, “My regular customers know that if they order the same thing they got last week, there is a good chance they won’t even recognize it. I don’t do it differently on purpose. It’s just that everything I cook, every time I cook, is an event in and of itself.” Variable factors like ingredient quality, temperature, and timing will ensure that a dish is different every time it’s prepared, whether at a restaurant kitchen, or a home kitchen, or even from one day to another at the same restaurant.

Nonetheless, is it worth the price of a high end restaurant in New York to achieve the exact same dish? The author notes that the cookbooks she tried out did produce good results:

Besides this cheat-sheet function, restaurant cookbooks help us tap into a chef’s creative genius—they help us understand how a handful of ingredients can be transformed into a restaurant-worthy meal. When we rely on regular cookbooks, we at best become good cooks; with Eat Me or Carmine’s Family Style-Cookbook or Chanterelle, we become pseudo-restaurant chefs.

Nonetheless, as a food writer, the author could not end the piece informing her readers that they are better off preparing their meals at home:

Of course, a restaurant cookbook is still, ultimately, no more than a collection of bound pages. At home, Kenny Shopsin didn’t insult me (which is really an integral part of the Shopsin’s experience); I missed out on people-watching at Carmine’s (enthusiastic hordes devouring heaps of pasta); and while my salmon resembled Chanterelle’s, I didn’t get to taste the complementary deviled quail egg canapés and homemade rolls with two types of artisanal butter. At home, I had to play the part not only of chef but of waiter and dishwasher, too, with no chance of a tip.

As a frugalist, I prefer to keep my pennies and not be insulted and if I really want to watch people there are many ways of doing this for free. As for not getting the tip, I prefer this to having to pay a tip on a meal that will certainly be outrageously priced. If I can get the same meal at home, even if the color of the potatoes are not perfect, then I will prefer to eat at home to save the money.

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