Jennifer Reese in Slate:
“There are hundreds of thousands of recipes out there, but few of them help you to be a better cook in any substantial way,” Michael Ruhlman writes in the preface to his fascinating and pompous new book, Ratio. “In fact, they may hurt you as a cook by keeping you chained to recipes.” Ruhlman calls Ratio an “anti recipe book, a book that teaches you and frees you from the need to follow.” He argues that once you've memorized certain “bedrock” culinary ratios, you can cook virtually anything without resorting to a cookbook.
I read Ratio cover to cover one afternoon, and I rolled my eyes. Like many of us who lack an Italian grandmother or a culinary school education, I taught myself to cook with recipes. Ruhlman is dead wrong about one thing: Recipes can help you become a better cook in a very substantial way. From following instructions, you learn technique. From watching how ingredients are paired, you develop an intuitive sense of what flavors work together.
Moreover, the underlying message irritated me. It's no longer good enough to make a pecan pie from the Joy of Cooking? We have to be artists now?