I didn't take a beach vacation this winter, but my mother was conscientious in sending me daily dispatches from her Aruba trip. The e-mails, which could have been ghost-written by the island's tourism bureau, extolled sunny skies, warm seawater and the pleasures of drinking a rare strawberry daiquiri in a thatch hut. She also updated me on her restaurant meals, including a character sketch of her favorite chef.
"Apparently, people have the nerve to ask him for recipes of his dishes," she wrote. "He does comply & comes out to the table & writes them down for the customer, not even leaving out a critical ingredient."
I've never considered it poor form to ask for a recipe in a restaurant: I'd always assumed the chef would consider the request a compliment. But an informal survey of acquaintances suggests many diners who -- like my parents -- eat out no more than four or five times a month, have consigned the practice to the rude column. They apparently figure asking a chef for a recipe is like asking a janitor for his broom. Or, more precisely, like asking a janitor for his broom and then starting to sweep the floor, since the request implies the receiver is capable of doing a better job than the pro.
Having tried to follow restaurant recipes printed in cookbooks, I'm pretty sure most chefs don't have to fear their customers will successfully replicate their dishes at home. It takes commercial equipment and a skilled kitchen staff to produce the very best restaurant food. But since I've never written a recipe, I decided to check in with a chef who has devised recipes worth safeguarding.
"As a chef, it is a huge honor to be asked for the recipe," says Robin Leventhal, late of Crave Bistro. "I am a giver."
Leventhal is confident "the food will never taste as good as when we cook it for you," but admits she withheld a few popular recipes at Crave.
"At one point, I was considering a Crave cookbook, so I have turned down a few people along the way," she says. "Especially our shiitake mac & cheese and our goat cheese gnocchi, two of the most requested recipes."
Leventhal has since shared the Mac & Cheese recipe with KCTS9, but recipes for her gnocchi and "Big As Yo' Mama's Face" chocolate-chip cookies still aren't in circulation. It might be worth asking.