I spent the early part of 2020 distracting myself from the rapidly shifting pandemic world by, in part, making a concerted effort to improve my cooking technique — not in a competitive or performative way, but because I wanted a better understanding of what I was doing. It was around that time I stumbled across one of J. Kenji López-Alt’s YouTube videos — I think it was maybe late night sesame noodles — and I was hooked. Here is a YouTube channel filled with technique and, most often, coherent explanations for what is happening and what decisions he is making — the “late night” videos being the exception — without getting dry or prescriptive.
Helen Rosner, of the New Yorker, interviewed López-Alt ahead of the release of his new book about the wok. Here is what he said about the difference between technique and recipes:
The technique is something that has wide applications. It’s a method, as opposed to a recipe, which is just the one thing. If I ask my phone, “How do I get from here to the post office?,” it gives me a recipe to the post office. I can just stare at my phone and see how many feet I have to walk this way, which way I turn, and then I get to the post office. Whereas learning a technique is like being handed the map. It allows you to choose other destinations—it allows you to choose alternate routes. That’s basically the difference to me: a recipe is turn-by-turn directions, a technique is a map.
This is a good interview. Even if you are not a keen cook, I think there is a lot to appreciate from a discussion with a person so passionate about their work.