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I love cooking. I especially enjoy making complex dishes that require days of preparation and hours over the stove. Nothing that requires a Michelin Star chef, but it does require time, patience and sometimes specific tools.

From time to time, I bring dishes I made to friends or my office. Almost every time, I get asked how I made the dish, and almost every time, the person who asks seems disappointing from my answer. Some answers I tried:

  1. Give the full recipe (people seem disinterested after the 10th stage...)
  2. Give a general ingredients list (people think I hide stuff from them, so they either say a disappointed "oh..." or ask for the full recipe, and then we're back to #1)
  3. Say it's a bit complicated (people think I'm condescending, which I'm truly not, I just don't want a #1 scenario)
  4. Joke about it (e.g. for a homemade ice cream: "Oh, you know, just a lot of fat and sugar, and then some more fat and more sugar" - again, they're not satisfied from the answer)
  5. Ask "do you really want to know?" (to which the answer is always "yes", because that's the polite answer, and now we're back at square one)

I get that there are many reasons to ask "how did you make this dish": being polite, acknowledging my effort, genuinely being interested, etc. but it seems like no matter the reason for asking, or the way I answer, the people who ask always seem disappointed of my answer.

How can I answer this question without coming across as pretentious or boring the person who is asking?

  • Welcome to IPS! Currently, your question sounds a bit like a phrasing request which is off-topic here. Could you maybe edit to make it clear why it's not one? – Ælis Oct 31 '18 at 16:36
  • I disagree that this is a phrasing request, it's a bit deeper than that and I think there are IP skills here. – Bryan Krause Oct 31 '18 at 16:39
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    @Noon, I'm not sure I understand. The 5 different answers I gave here use 5 totally different approaches to the problem. The phrasing is a bit irrelevant, as the dialog isn't in English, it's in my native language. I'm looking for a way to understand what is the answer that would satisfy the person who asked – GilZ Oct 31 '18 at 16:43
  • It might just be me who doesn't understand the question but I'm not sure about what you want to communicate. Do you just want to change the subject and move on? Or maybe to find out what they are really after and maybe answer the question before moving on? – Ælis Oct 31 '18 at 16:57
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    I wonder if you can give an example for such a complex food :-) – puck Oct 31 '18 at 18:36
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I read the comments to the question and I think this is not really a matter of phrasing but a matter of how to satisfy every possible asker's mind.
The answer is not to satisfy them but to let them choose their satisfaction of their own.

The dish takes approximately x hours, needs about y ingredients and has several steps of preparation.
It is probably too long to explain and keep in mind but I can mail/copy/hand you the recipe if you like to prepare this too.

This

  • tells the truth.
  • is cooperative - you will give the full recipe to them without forgetting something.
  • provides room to ask for more details about it for those who want to keep talking.
  • is short and not annoying for those who don't want to hear more.
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I think for a question like this it is helpful to think about what the motives of the person asking the question are. Unfortunately, this particular one can be a bit unclear: someone might want to replicate your work, or they might just be making a polite comment to give you a bit of credit/opportunity to boast (which in itself is a good interpersonal skill!). You want your response to be considerate of that possible range of motivations.

In my experience, both for people asking about my cooking and for myself when I ask these sorts of questions, they are usually looking for a fairly brief answer. The way I would suggest structuring your response is to accommodate that likely desire for a brief answer, and then open the conversation for further discussion if you think they might be interested. In that way, you have little risk of boring someone, nor are you shutting them down by implying intentionally or not that somehow they aren't qualified to hear the whole story.

I would start with just a brief statement: maybe note one secret ingredient (I added way more almond extract than the recipe suggested), a source for the recipe (Oh I got the recipe from a cookbook my sister-in-law gifted me!), a particularly challenging technique or tip (They were all falling apart until I started putting them in the freezer for 5 minutes before frying), etc. These brief stories let you share a bit of your expertise, let the listener feel like they are "in on" the secret a bit, and leave the conversation open.

Also, all of these sorts of statements do nothing to imply that your listener is deficient in any way: you can stick to your own development and learning as a cook, which is something most fellow cooks will be able to appreciate.

Then, if you are open to sharing the recipe or having, you can simply offer to share, probably in another setting, i.e. "If you want the recipe, I could email it to you?" That way you aren't pinning anyone down for a conversation they didn't intend to drag on, and also not shutting them down if they were hoping to get more information.


I think my answer mostly agrees with the one by @scohe001 - but I would still recommend starting with just some brief statement rather than asking what they want to know, because if they are asking to just be polite they don't actually have anything in mind in particular and you put them on the spot, they just want to hear you say what's interesting to you. Instead, I would ask if they want to know anything else after you drop your little tidbit.

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You make a good point--you have no idea why they're asking, so you don't know what you should say. If someone's trying to be polite, giving them the full recipe would bore them, while if they're also interested in cooking like you, brushing them off with "you know, a little of this, a little of that" would probably also be a turn off.

As such, I'd actually avoid the question all together. I like to use humor, as it also has the double effect of lightening the conversational mood, but you could easily swap it out for any other avoiding technique you prefer. Then you can ask what specifically they're asking for. If it were me, the conversation may go something like:

Them: How did you make this dish?

You: With enough complaining to impress a college student--this dish always kills me! What did you want to know?

This way they can decide what to ask for and save you the trouble of having to guess.

1

As your first statement suggests, you are probably a pretty enthusiast cook!

That enthusiasm can be really useful (a part from actually enjoying cooking, which is good) for this type of situations.

Enthusiasm spreading

It might be a good way to transform a long recipe interest into a positive and interesting story

First state that you spend time and/or resources on it :

This one took me a few hours.

Then you can understate your commitment (humor always helps)

But don't get me wrong, I basically stared at topping for 10 minutes..

State again your enthusiasm by telling you'd like to share the result with them (and get their approval)

Still, i'm pretty happy with the result. Please taste it and tell me!!


Or you can go full humor

Oh, you don't want me to get started on this! I had a hudge fight with an avocado..

And use funny ways to explain shortly how you made it. Even if you don't state perfectly the recipe you used, it will be entertaining and create appeal.


Share some information you found, to make it thrilling

You wanna know something nice?? I found an incredibly easy way to do Z..!

This might sound nerdy, but you can use it as a diversion (to avoid getting seen as pretentious)

adapt to the speaker

You will probably have to face situation where someone reject your enthusiasm

Oh you're such a cook.. I could never do all of this!

Find something that the person is good at, and use it

I can't do X as good as you, i'm sure it took you so long to learn it aswell..

Trust me, you could learn to cook this in no time!

If someone states that he is unable to make it, use your knowledge to advise him to do an easier thing as a first step

There is another recipe really cool, doing almost the same thing. You could use it as a training!

Or he gives arguments like : it's not worthy

Meh, I don't like all of this. It takes so much time and efforts

At this point specify why you enjoy it so much / why it is so useful

Well, I enjoy cooking because I get rewarded with good food each time on the way

1

Whenever I get asked for one of my recipes, I give a very brief overview. "I used this and this..." with maybe a single item that makes the recipe stand out "Briefly heat to 350 before turning down and cooking at 250, it makes the meat more tender". Then, if they seem to want more, I tell them "if you are really interested in my recipe, give me your email address and I'll send it to you."

I have all of my recipes in Word .doc files, so I can just attach and send. Or send a link, if I got it from allrecipes.com or some other website.

This satisfies the social aspect of people's desire to encourage and thank you by showing an interest, but also prevents the situation where they are being given a large amount of information with no way to retain it. When they are looking glazed over, it might not be that they aren't interested, just that their information overload circuits have been tripped.

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