Teaching how to cook (a note from Hacker News)

In response to a linkpost to an article about how it’s important to be precise when baking, I commented:

Much of the art of (non-professional) cooking, in my view, lies in knowing what must be rigid and what need not be. Baking is a science, relying on precise chemical reactions that must happen within pretty tightly defined windows. Making a curry is not a science, in that you can get a good curry by just making it up on the spot, tasting as you go, and fixing it if it needs fixing. (Maybe following a recipe precisely will get you the best results, but you can get most of the way there with just a few rough signposts; nothing will go disastrously wrong if you shake things up a bit.)

One of the things I found most annoying about watching someone trying to teach someone else how to cook (while at uni) was that the teacher never pointed out when something didn’t matter. Whether it was “now you put in 1.5tsp of salt to the sauce” or “now you put in 1.5tsp of yeast to the dough”, the method was presented as unyielding. In fact the sauce can be made in infinite variety, while the dough must be made just so. Know when to yield to the expert, and know when not to bother.

Other commenters noted that things are usually a bit more flexible than I made out, but the overall point stands.