1 Ordinary Cook, 35 Impossible Recipes

Can a home cook learn anything from the supercomplicated cookbooks of the world's most celebrated chefs? We asked Timothy Taylor to dive into the deep end and then throw some dinner parties for friends.

PART 5: Enough already: I run out of steam.

I had pushed Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck Cookbook to the end of the challenge as a way of avoiding a rematch. You see, I'd done a Blumenthal cook-a-thon once before, three days of making a chili out of his book In Search of Perfection. I had pressure-cooked beans and brined beef short ribs, scoured the town for Devil's Penis chiles for the nine-ingredient chili powder, made onion confit and roasted red peppers, mortared star anise, added the red wine, and generally followed every instruction until it was time to serve, at which point every person at the table said exactly the same thing: tastes like faintly chili-ed Asian beef bourguignonne.

My triumphs with Humm, Redzepi, et al. had left me with insufficient time to prepare the Saddle of Venison with 19 constituent preparations. Moreover, my eyes had glazed over. My legs were sore. My brain was foggy. I'd been doing the work of two dozen cooks, and I needed to sit down. I knew I was a different cook than I had been. Being forced into the mind-set of top-of-their-game professional chefs had pushed me to be more creative yet more methodical, to demand more from myself than the same-old same-old cooking I had been doing. But right now I needed comfort food.

So I made one of those family dinners I don't serve to guests. It was my mother's recipe and it, too, had constituent preparations, but you can buy them at the grocery store: a can of cream of chicken soup, a can of mushrooms, some Worcestershire and soy sauces. Brown ground beef with onions and a pinch of nutmeg. Combine with yogurt, et voilà!: hamburger stroganoff.

Heston and I did not meet over a main course at all. For dessert, though, I managed to eke out a Blumenthalian preparation: jelly two ways. One is derived from blood orange, the other from yellow beet. Blumenthal devotes two pages of deep thinking to this dish: "If memory can boldly (and incorrectly) assert that orange colour = orange fruit, what part do memory and expectation (and for that matter genetic programming and survival mechanisms and cultural conditioning) play in our daily interaction with food, in our adventurousness, in our likes and dislikes?"

Very good question, possibly, but not on my watch. Yes, after a couple of hours of preparation, the jellies basically worked, although the yellow beet preparation turned dark green, nothing like the photographs. But the stroganoff took 45 minutes and turned out perfectly. That is, it turned out exactly as it has turned out each of the countless times I've made it, as it had for my mother before me.

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