I hate following recipes.
That’s not to say I’m one of those people who can fashion a gourmet meal out of kitchen scraps, artfully combining them in new and inventive ways by pure instinct. Truth be told, I hate cooking anything I haven’t cooked before – especially if it’s meant to be something recognisable at the end.
The problem I have is recipes aren’t really instructions. They kind of try to be sometimes, but generally assume you have a degree of cooking knowledge and can understand the difference between complex terms like ‘fold’, ‘beat’ and ‘whisk’ which to my feeble mind all mean ‘stir’.
They also use phrases like “a pinch”. A pinch? How much is a pinch? My fingers might be bigger than yours. How do you know I haven’t got massive fucking fingers? That’s hardly fucking science, is it?
My main issue with following recipes though is the fact I can follow them exactly and still not produce the meal I was supposed to be cooking.
“This is what we’re having for dinner” says Mandy “and here’s the recipe.”
Okay, should be easy. We’ve eaten this dozens of times over the years. I know what it’s supposed to look like and taste like and …
By the way, there is a scriptwriting link coming. Honest.
… roughly what goes into it. Following the recipe should be a doddle.
Except it’s not.
It never is.
Because one of two things happens: either I get halfway through and discover Mandy hasn’t bought a vital ingredient (for she does the shopping in our house since she spends far less time in the Caribbean than I do) forcing me to stop at a crucial junction and either run to the shops or substitute something random for something I have no idea what it was supposed to be.
“Olive Tapenade? What the fuck is a tapenade? Will Frosties do?”
More often than not, it’s at this point I give up and head for the nearest burger joint.
If I’m not missing an ingredient then I finish cooking to discover the result doesn’t look, smell or taste anything like it does when Mandy makes it.
Which is frustrating since I was following her recipe.
Of course, the key to unravelling this mystery is to understand one simple fact: Mandy doesn’t follow recipes. She invents bits, for she is a wonderful cook. She doesn’t use Olive Tapenade because she knows I don’t like olives (I once drank a pint of olive oil – that sort of silliness tends to put you off) so substitutes it for something tomato-y.
In other dishes she doubles, halves, omits or adds various ingredients because she’s cooked these dishes a few times and likes to experiment. When she serves a specific dish it’s not actually the one specified by the recipe because she’s altered it into something else. I can follow the same recipe a hundred times and never come close to approximating the dish she serves because I have no idea what it actually is.
And I don’t think this is uncommon. A good cook looks at the recipe and then disregards the bits which don’t fit his or her tastes. A good cook recognises a recipe isn’t a set of instructions, it’s a set of guidelines. It’s a statement which says:
“I did it this way because it works for me, do something similar which works for you.”
It occurs to me that this might be the correct approach to use when learning screenplay structure. Some writers are appalled by the notion that something artistic might have rules … completely ignoring the fact that ALL art has rules. Or perhaps just guidelines. Or recipes.
They’ll point to great artists like Picasso and go “well he didn’t follow the rules, so why should I?”
Which is odd, because if you ever go to the Picasso museum in Barcelona (you know, that one somewhere down off Las Ramblas – near that bar which has trees in it and fairies and a haunted castle-room-thing at the back … no idea what it’s called. The museum. Or the bar for that matter.) then you can clearly see Picasso learnt all the rules, painted some rather dull portraits before giving up and just taking the piss out of people.
At least, that’s my theory. There’s this great exhibit which you see an original artwork by someone or other and then Picasso’s version next to it. The original is a near-photo-quality portrait. Picasso’s version looks like Bod.
And is worth ten times as much.
In other words, Picasso learnt the recipe and then did his own version. He changed the bits he felt needed changing to suit his style … but he still followed certain rules of composition.
I have no fucking idea what I’m talking about and appear to be mixing metaphors all over the place.
Or am I folding them?
Possibly beating. Not sure.
The point, if I ever had one, is there’s nothing wrong with seeking out other people’s recipes for scriptwriting. I find it interesting to study them and see what I can learn from them. I don’t follow them to the letter though – I like to mix and match, to deviate from the recipe in ways which enhance the script.
Or at least I think they enhance the script.
Maybe they don’t?
Maybe I should just follow the recipes exactly? Maybe I should just shut the hell up because I’ve no idea why I started talking about this crap?
Yes, that sounds more likely.
Here, have some recipe-themed funk instead.