When a theatrical production is preparing to begin its rehearsals, the moment when the process really begins is referred to as ‘going off book.’ This means that the actors have memorized their lines and familiarized themselves with their characters and the key points of the plot. They are ready to start making creative decisions and start making choices independently of the lines written in the script.
The goal of a Chopping Block class is in essence to get you off ‘book’. It’s true that we hand you recipe packets in class, but those are meant to be your script-- something that you learn so that you can forget it. Once you can move past the recipe as lifeline mentality, you can start to really make decisions and personalize your cooking, as an actor personalizes a role.
I don’t mean to devalue recipes in any way, I have yet to meet a professional chef who doesn’t have more cookbooks than they know what to do with. At their best, cookbooks and recipes can be educational, inspiring, instructive, and provocative. They are undeniably important. Julia Child, James Beard, and Auguste Escoffer legacies live through the recipes they passed on us.
These legacies are endlessly fascinating and certainly profound in their importance, but at the end of the day, when you get home, you’re cooking for yourself and those you love. Those recipes act as your script to give you the tools to make a recipe your own. Just as an actor embodies a character, you have to improvise. Use maple syrup instead of sugar, soy sauce instead of salt, leave out the cilantro, add mint, add salt, less salt... its your recipe, but more importantly its your meal. If we can help you to understand what makes that meat tender, or why that cake is moist, we’ve done our job, and you’ve made a meal that you can truly call your own.