No Recipe Zone: How To Improvise And Make Spectacular Food

A trend is happening among cooking enthusiasts worldwide and it’s not recipes — literally. Food52 launched an app a few days ago that’s all about (not) recipes. Not convinced this direction is a real thing? Well then a quick #NotRecipes Instagram hashtag search will certainly change your mind. We’ve definitely entered the no recipe zone. But what’s going on here? What’s behind this sudden recipe rebellion?


The tendency towards winging it in the kitchen has been happening for a few years now. Author Susan Crowther wrote about the importance and benefits of embracing the kitchen as a no recipe zone in her 2013 guide to the art of cooking. More recently, restaurateur David Chang blamed the internet for making everything taste the same. I have to agree. We grab our tablets, Google “the best” this, or “authentic” that, grab the top result and off we go. Riding shotgun with Anthony Bourdain on his latest adventure to parts unknown — yeah? Time to start tagging those Pinterest recipe pics with #wcib and let the people decide just who cooked it best right Mr. Chang?

I’ll be the first to admit that I love cooking by recipe. In fact, when I cook something for the first time, I follow the recipe to the letter. I want to experience exactly what the recipe creator intended. I’ve even created and shared a recipe or two myself, but my greatest culinary concepts happen spontaneously. Since you’re reading this, I’m sure you can relate. We whip up something in the moment only to learn later that we just made a phenomenal dish. How? Who knows? All that remains of your instinctive cooking process is the grouping of seasoning jars set aside on your kitchen counter. Not enough for a traditional recipe, but the perfect ingredient for the no recipe movement. Hopefully you snapped the compulsory #instafood pic before digging in to you eventual masterpiece.

Want to cook like a chef? Hang out in the no recipe zone.

Navigating the no recipe zone is surprisingly simple: do what you normally do in the kitchen; take a few food prep & plated pictures; share them on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. alongside key ingredient mentions and you’re done. Your (not) recipe is out there for all to discover and hopefully experiment with the ingredients and techniques, creating a treasure of their own. What’s really fascinating about the not recipe movement is that similar dishes are as tastefully unique as the individuals crafting in their kitchens. So exciting! David Chang-approved I’m sure.

Here are a few tips to get you started on becoming a no recipe zone official. After all, it’s still about good food, and creating great culinary experiences is a discipline that takes practice. Familiarize yourself with these 5 easy points and you’ll have a great foundation for kitchen success.

Cook lots of recipes — once.

Get to know exactly what the recipe creator wants you to experience. Not only does this put your work in context, it also guides your understanding or how various ingredients work together.

Know your history.

Our cooking innovations have their roots in past dining experiences. Know the whys and hows of your ad-hoc medley’s inspiration and you’ll be prepared to respectfully apply modern tools, techniques and ingredients to your concept. The “why this works” sections in the great Science of Good Cooking book are absolutely priceless.

Trust your nose.

I wrote about aromatic pairing in a previous post and it’s a concept that definitely belongs in the no recipe zone. Read it here and trust that your nose does indeed know.

Equipment matters.

I hear more questions about this one than almost any other cooking suggestion. An eclectic collection of equipment is positively essential for successful culinary creativity. I may go beyond norms here. If I can’t readily find a cooking gadget that provides the functionality I need, I’ll dream something up. Your trusty cast iron skillet is a treasure, but it deserves lots of company.

Play with your food.

Sorry mom! Cooking should be fun. Make it so for you. Find whimsical ways to develop your creation. Maybe a signature style for getting the perfect amount of thyme into your stock? Use your imagination have lots of fun with it. Your results will surprise you.

Mistakes happen.

Laugh at them. Better yet, take a pic share it on Instagram and let me know. I’ll follow that tag! We all know that not everything goes as planned in the kitchen. Share those candid moments. You’ll connect with more people than you might think with that pizza Margherita gone calzone snapshot.

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