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Infographics of the Day: Pictoral Recipes That Actually Teach You Cookery

If you’re trying to learn to cook, you’d think that closely following good recipes is the surest way. But you’d be wrong, as any self-taught cook can tell you: The fact is, the cognitive act of follow a dumb, numbered list of instructions just doesn’t give you any clear idea of why you’re doing what you’re doing, and how it fits into the process of actually making something edible. What you really need is some sort of teaching tool that breaks the cooking process into ebbs and flows of process, each one linking up with the others to produce specific outcomes.

If you’re trying to learn to cook, you’d think that closely following good recipes is the surest way. But you’d be wrong, as any self-taught cook can tell you: The fact is, the cognitive act of follow a dumb, numbered list of instructions just doesn’t give you any clear idea of why you’re doing what you’re doing, and how it fits into the process of actually making something edible.

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What you really need is some sort of teaching tool that breaks the cooking process into ebbs and flows of process, each one linking up with the others to produce specific outcomes. Which is exactly what these lovely little drawn recipes by Katie Shelly begin to accomplish.

You see exactly how all the puzzle pieces of good food are put together.

They look simply like a pretty diversion. But let’s think a bit more seriously about what having a visually flow chart of a recipe does for your cooking skills. For example, some dishes such as pesto are about combining flavors in a relatively straight forward mash; others, such as certain sauces or roasts, are about caramelizing aromatics, whose flavor fades and infuses everything that comes after. Most importantly, cooking is about the controlled application of heat to ingredients that don’t have the same amounts of water, flavor, or mass — hence, it’s really about squaring a circle, insofar as you’re combining a bunch of radically different things into one fragrant dish.

By seeing all these steps laid out into their sub-routines, you get a sense of exactly how all the puzzle pieces of good food are put together. As Shelly explains, these recipes are meant to encourage play and experimentation — which is exactly what a real cool is able to do, using their own intuition. These recipes do so by breaking the mystery of cooking into almost modular, visual chunks — sweat the onions, toast the spices — that provide you way to hop off for unscheduled diversions.

Shelly’s project is part of GOOD’s open call to reinvent the recipe and is our favorite about the nearly two dozen entries. Check the rest out here. And to see our complete slideshow, click here.

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About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.

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