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Secret recipes: why?
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clotilde
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Joined: 24 Sep 2004
Posts: 443
Location: Paris, France

PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2009 8:57 am    Post subject: Secret recipes: why? Reply with quote

Looking at the topic on chili, I noticed a reference to "secret recipes" never revealed to anyone, and it made me wonder: what is the motivation for keeping a recipe secret?

I myself don't have secret recipes at all: if I make a dish and someone likes it enough to ask how I made it, pen and paper in hand, I take it as a great compliment and I'm more than happy to share, regardless of the time and care I took to develop the recipe. And nothing pleases me like having that person report back and say, I made your whatever-it-was and everyone loved it.

For those of you who do keep some recipe secrets, can you explain why you do? Is it that you ambition to someday create a business around them, and want to make sure no one copies what you do? Is it that you cook for a group of friends or family or community where there's a somewhat competitive spirit, and it's important to maintain your position as the one who makes the best this or that? Or is it just that you have fun keeping people guessing?

(Just to clarify -- I have no problem with the idea in general, of course, I'm just curious about the motivation.)
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harpospeaking



Joined: 13 Sep 2005
Posts: 194
Location: San Diego, CA

PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2009 10:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't always keep my few successful recipes a secret per se, but in general, when I find something wonderful (a quaint store tucked away on a side street or a beautiful scarf), the little kid in me wants to keep it for herself. As a woman, I feel that most of us like to keep a few secret resources to ourselves, just to give us a little advantage at times.

About keeping recipes a secret --- it is especially important if I've gone to great lengths to perfect a recipe. The motive behind keeping a recipe a secret is the fact that I've gone through so much trial and error to perfect this recipe and earn this knowledge --- and why should someone else swoop in and benefit from all my hard work? Also, there's a risk that (gasp!) the person you share your recipe with might even take credit for YOUR recipe! I guess it's a function of pride and wanting to take credit where credit is due. Also, it depends on how much you trust and like the person who is asking for your recipe.

To be honest though, I'm not such a great cook that people ask for my recipes all the time. Most of the time they'll just ask me to cook a dish they like rather than ask for the recipe.
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2009 1:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Since I was the big voice on that thread I reckon I should anwer.

And the answer is that it isn't about recipes, it's about chili. I have numerous recipes I've developed, for virtually any kind of dish. All y'all are welcome to any one of them. But not the chili recipe.

F'rinstance, my seafood lollipop recipe took a long time to develop and perfect. But I haven't hesitated to share it with others, even professionals. I know it appears on several menus. But so what. The point of it was to develop a dish that made people happy---that's what cooks do, ya know.

There is, however, an intense competition among chili heads. Even those, like me, who do not compete formally, know that we're in that race. So no real chili cook is willing to share his/her prime recipe.

Now then, I can, and would happily, pass on what purports to be chili recipes. The sort of thing that Rachael Ray and Bobby Flay do. Truth is, some of those are pretty tasty dishes. But they're not real chili.

Now then, there are people who keep their recipes secret. Not professionals---I understand why they don't share---but plain old home cooks. And with the one exception of chili I don't understand it any more than you do.
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2009 1:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

One other point about secret versus nonsecret recipes.

In my rather extensive experience, most people who ask another home cook for a recipe never make the dish. The intend to, sure. But, somehow, never quite get around to it.

So, most of the time, even if you share a secret recipe it stays secret cuz you're the only one making it.
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Barbara



Joined: 13 Nov 2004
Posts: 899
Location: Gold Coast Australia

PostPosted: Mon Oct 19, 2009 12:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't keep my recipes secret. Like Clotilde I'm honoured if someone things enough of my dish they want to recreate it themselves.
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madameshawshank



Joined: 30 Sep 2004
Posts: 1654
Location: Penrith (where jacarandas remind me of change), New South Wales, Australia

PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 10:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Clotilde, I'm glad you didn't keep THE chocolate cake recipe secret Wink

This last weekend it was enjoyed at my neighbour's home. We were 15 at the table. French folk, German folk, and Australian folk. Each and every one of us enjoying the cake!

I can now make it with my eyes shut! Well, almost anyway.

I've shared this recipe with many people. Any mention of chocolate in a conversation 'n I'll have written it out in seconds.

I'm for the sharing. However, I can imagine having a top secret recipe.
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clotilde
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Joined: 24 Sep 2004
Posts: 443
Location: Paris, France

PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 2:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject!

KYHeirloomer - It's funny, I'm evidently missing a piece of cultural significance when it comes to chili. I had not quite realized it was such a uniquely special area of the culinary arts! But then I don't think I've ever tasted one that was prepared by a "chili head," either. I hope to get that opportunity some day!
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 5:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, just come on down, Darlin', and we'll share a bowl.

Surely it's worth an 11 hour flight for a taste. Very Happy
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gingerpale



Joined: 23 Jan 2006
Posts: 1324

PostPosted: Wed Oct 28, 2009 11:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I suppose either money or ego would cause secrecy.
If you were making a lot of money with a recipe (like Coca-Cola) you'd of course have to keep it secret. Patents and lawsuits and billions!
If you thought you could in the future make money with a recipe you'd keep it secret. But you'd have to open a restaurant, or sell it in stores. It might be your livelihood. Or you could keep the secret temorarily, hold it for ransom until someone buys your cookbook. (The Internet has Interfered in that plan!)
If a man or woman you once loved but now hate enjoyed a certain recipe you'd keep it secret.
Cooks with secret recipes probably prepare them a little differently each time anyway?
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bluedog



Joined: 03 Aug 2005
Posts: 135
Location: Seattle, WA

PostPosted: Wed Oct 28, 2009 11:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have to say I am confused by this topic as well. I am flattered when people want to recreate my food! I have two friends that won't share recipes and it really irks me, mostly b/c they freely ACCEPT recipes from me! One is a sangria recipe that was handed down the family from Spain, so I kind of see that, but the others are just standard fare that I think is a good version. One response was "I don't want to eat my ribs at someone else's house!"

I wouldn't ever serve someone their own recipe (at least not w/ out advance discussion if it was a big party, etc) and I would surely give them credit if the other guests were enjoying it! I would hope they woudl do the same for me.

If you are a secret recipe holder - please enlighten me!!!
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Thu Oct 29, 2009 2:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've been thinking about this thread. One thing that occurs is that responses to the basic question are, generally speaking, skewed. Seems to me that the very function of forums like this is to share knowledge. And that certainly includes recipes. So folks here are less likely to be secretive.

The question is, really, do people who participate in food forums represent the cooking population as a whole? Are there really a proportionately high number of home cooks who keep their recipes secret?

Frankly---and, again, with the noteable exception of chili---I don't know anybody like that. In fact, when asked politely, even most professionals have shared recipes with me.

Also makes me wonder if people who don't share really have much of a body of work? I'd go out on a limb and guess that they have only one or two recipes they've developed, and, by keeping them secret, are able to give the impression that they're more creative than they really are.
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dory



Joined: 11 Nov 2007
Posts: 236
Location: Madison, WI

PostPosted: Thu Oct 29, 2009 6:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I occasionally have trouble giving recipes because I generally cook by the method of "a little of this and a little of that." I don't stick to recipes strictly even when baking. I put together ingredients so they have a certain look, and a certain feel. I recently took my take on Clotilde's muhammara to a choir party (I love to sing as well as cook) and someone asked me for the recipe. I am so happy that Clotilde has done the work of writing it down for me.

However, I recently put together a digital version of the family cookbooks that women used to put in notebooks and pass down to their daughters, and emailed it to my family members. I don't think recipes should be secret. I am working on learning to write down not only ingredients but also measurements so that I can share recipes with friends.

Dory
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hbw



Joined: 20 Aug 2009
Posts: 2

PostPosted: Wed Nov 04, 2009 10:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fine. Fine! Bake with half cornflour and half normal wheat; the cornflour is so fine that every sponge, choux bun and muffin feels silky smooth on the tongue. I have a killer (and painstakingly adapted) recipe for rum cake which, if I dig it out, I may post though really I want to store it in a sturdy padlocked chest on a remote beach under an X.

It's competitive edge that does it for me, and a pinch of romanticism over any future generations that I may bring forth and who will share my enthusiasm for patisserie and to whom I will surely have little else to bequeath!
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Parasvati



Joined: 17 Nov 2009
Posts: 1
Location: the Northwest Pacific Coast of the United States

PostPosted: Tue Nov 17, 2009 11:51 pm    Post subject: Why Keep Recipes Secret? Reply with quote

This was a subject I felt impelled to post about, as I saw quite a few negative statements regarding cooks who like to keep their recipes to themselves.
I read "Selfish", "Most likely basically uncreative, with a wish to appear more so", and then the self-aggrandizing statements like "Well, I always share my recipes if anyone asks... so I just can't understand why someone else wouldn't want to..." etc., etc.

Look. What gives you the right to expect someone to give you anything? Do you deserve their intellectual property? Because that's what an unpublished, original recipe is, just as much as anything else created by a human being. And the chili guy says he'll give you any recipe except his favorite chili recipe-- everybody seems to understand and cheerfully accept that-- but really, what's the difference between a chili recipe and any other recipe? The difference is he really cares about his chili recipe. Well I care very much about my recipes, too-- and I don't appreciate being called names because I don't choose to hand them over to anyone who simply wants them.

Perhaps you'd like my watch? It's nice, I worked hard for it. You say you like my dress? And you want it? Oh, well, I better hand it over, so I won't be labeled "selfish" by you people.

I work very hard to create new recipes and I am happy when they work and people buy my very special baked goods, my sauces, etc. If you ask me, and I feel like it, I may share my ideas with you. But don't expect it from me as your "right". It is not your "right". It is my right to say yes or no as I see fit without incurring negative opinions from people who can't think for themselves and come up with their own secret recipes.
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Wed Nov 18, 2009 12:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow! It's not often that somebody joins a forum and immediately goes on the attack. Obviously, you feel strongly about this.

While I appreciate your feelings there are several things to keep in mind. One, this is not a forum composed of professionals, by and large. With a few noteable exceptions they're just folks who enjoy food, and like preparing it and talking about it. Call 'em foodies, or home cooks, or any other amateur title you wish to assign. They also are part of a forum whose very purpose is sharing. As a result, few can understand why others like them have secret recipes.

But going beyond that, I don't know many professionals with your attitude. I would say that 95 out of 100 times when I've asked politely they have shared recipes with me. And most of the remaining five times there is a good reason why they're holding that particular recipe close to the vest. Indeed, if you were representative of the industry as a whole, we'd never again see a chef-written cookbook.

Next, I don't know where you are, but under the U.S. copyright regs, recipes are not considered intellectual property. They are, under the law, merely lists of ingredients, and such lists are specifically excluded. In other words, the only way to protect one is to do what you do: keep it secret and never write it down.

Common courtesy dictates that if I use one of your recipes (well, not yours, but one given me from some of the top chefs in the country) that I attribute it to the originator. Which is something I personally always do. But there is no legal compunction to do so.

Being as I'm the chili guy, I reckon I should respond to that part. Yes, I really care about my chile recipe---but no more nor less than I care about any other of my original dishes. If you'd bothered to read my responses you'd understand why chili is different. But it sounds like you'd rather get on a soapbox than to comprehend the rationale behind my chili position.
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