Pearls of Wisdom: Patricia Wells

June 29, 2012

Presenting Pearls of Wisdom -- in conjunction with FOOD52's Recipe Writing Week, we'll be bringing you pro tips from the food world's best chefs and writers. Stay tuned for more every day this week.

Patricia Wells is our resource for all things Parisian -- we recently reviewed the new iPhone edition of her classic Food Lover's Guide to Paris. She's also a cookbook writer and journalist, and was the International Herald Tribune restaurant critic for almost 30 years. 

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Here's her advice!

As a journalist, I always try to apply journalistic rules to recipe writing: keep it short, keep it simple, try to say everything as clearly as possible. It is our job to give the cook as much help as possible so they succeed with the recipe. After a recipe is written, I walk myself through the recipe to make sure it is clear and easy to understand.

1. Always be sure to have an equipment line on the recipe. There is nothing worse than starting a recipe only to find you don't have the correct size bread pan or cake pan. (JJ Goode and Rose Levy Beranbaum agree!)

2. On the ingredients list, try to be as clear as possible and give the cook help if possible. If an ingredient may be hard to find, attach a note as to where it could be found online or in specific specialty shops.

3. Headnotes are important. They personalize the recipe, and allow the cook to put himself or herself in your place, envision you making the dish. It also helps distinguish this specific recipe from the million of recipes out there.

4. Whenever possible, I like to add a variation line at the end. There are very few recipes that are written in stone and cannot be changed. It's good to let cooks know that they can improvise -- within reason!

If you're just catching up on Pearls of Wisdom, don't miss advice from Ruth Reichl, JJ Goode, Rose Levy Beranbaum, Charlotte Druckman, Deb Perelman, and Aki Kamozawa & H. Alexander Talbot.




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  • Lizthechef
  • AntoniaJames
I'm Nozlee Samadzadeh, a writer, editor, farmer, developer, and passionate home cook. Growing up Iranian in Oklahoma, working on a small-scale organic farm, and cooking on a budget all influence the way I cook -- herbed rice dishes, chicken fried steak, heirloom tomato salad, and simple poached eggs all make appearances on my bright blue kitchen table. I love to eat kimchi (homemade!) straight from the jar and I eat cake for breakfast.


Lizthechef June 29, 2012
Perfect post, except I wish Ms. Wells would have expressed an opinion on a short versus long-er headnote.
AntoniaJames June 29, 2012
Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you! Ms. Wells, your writing long ago established the gold standard both for journalism and for cookbook writing. We are so fortunate that you have shared these helpful ideas. ;o)