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When restaurant chefs write recipes

Posted by Sheryl Julian  February 22, 2011 04:32 PM

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Some back story from Ike DeLorenzo on "Dinner for 2,000," in tomorrow's paper.

A chef at a top-tier restaurant would seem to be the ultimate authority on his or her own printed recipes. Recipes that appear in the Boston Globe that come from restaurant chefs are tested by Globe writers before publication. Usually, significant modifications are necessary. Chefs cook by instinct and write what they think are correct quantities.

For one article I wrote, a chef abruptly took back his handwritten recipe when I mentioned that the food editor would be testing it herself. He e-mailed a much more detailed (and correct) version later that day. A recipe is correct, of course, if the cook following it winds up with the right dish, made well.

For the story on Boston's upscale convention center kitchens, I had a chance to see how recipes from chefs work on the other end of the spectrum -- that is, with quantities increased to serve 1,000.

The menu for the 12th annual Big Night fundraising dinner for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay, held on Jan. 22, consisted of courses designed by local chefs who donated their services.

Paper copies of the recipes were then heavily marked up by the chefs at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC). In black pen, in the margin, there are lots of comments -- and exclamation marks. Parts were crossed out (more exclamation marks). Scaling these recipes up to feed that many people isn't a matter of simple multiplication. Does 1/4 teaspoon chili powder become 1/4 pound?

After the BCEC chefs redo the recipe, they prepare the dish and invite the original chef-author to the kitchen to approve the taste. Of all the chefs who contributed recipes for the fundraising dinner, only one, Joanne Chang, required no modifications. Comment in the margin for her Banana Cream Pie: "Perfect!" And Chang is up for a James Beard award this year. Can this woman do no wrong? Ike DeLorenzo

A peek at the menu for the "Big Night" fundraiser, and a few of the convention center chefs' more printable comments:

Appetizer from Michael Schlow of Radius
Smoked Bacon, String Bean, and Avocado Salad with Buttermilk-Tabasco dressing
BCEC chef notes: "Chop the bacon," "More tabasco & picked onion," "Citrus juice on the avocado."

Appetizer from by Seth Raynor of The Pearl
Nola BBQ Shrimp
BCEC notes: "With French bread," "the 2 teaspoons Sriracha = 1 gallon"

Main course from Chris Schlesinger of East Coast Grill
Pecan-Crusted Braised Short Rib with Crispy Crawfish Grit Cake and Seared Greens
BCEC notes: "Change pecan breadcrumbs," "Greens portion?"

Dessert from Joanne Chang of Flour
Individual Banana Cream Pie in Pate Sucree
BCEC notes: "Perfect!"

About Dishing

What's cooking in the world of food.


Sheryl Julian, the Globe's Food Editor, writes regularly for the Food section.

Devra First is the Globe's food reporter and restaurant critic. Her reviews appear weekly in the Food section.

Ellen Bhang reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe and writes about wine.

The Recipe Box Project:

If you want to contribute a recipe to The Recipe Box Project, please write it below. Also tell us where you got it (package box, cookbook, mom, friend -- include the name). We're looking for the kinds of dishes that people grew up on, that were served at family suppers, that tell a story, that are typically New England, or that you brought with you from a far away place to New England. We will print one of the recipes in the Food section once a month. To ask any questions, write to Debra Samuels, who is overseeing this project, at To discuss your recipes, click here.