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Sally on the Development
of The Improvisational Cook

Thirty years ago, when I was a young cook, with no formal training, making my way through professional kitchens and a serendipitous career in cooking, Richard Olney’s seminal 1975 cookbook Simple French Food was my greatest motivation. Olney’s premise, although simple, was revolutionary by cookbook standards. It described the underlying principles and logic of a recipe, as well as the possibilities for changing it. It gave readers the tools and insights they needed to find their own voice and cook improvisationally. This approach influenced a generation of American chefs from Alice Waters to Jeremiah Tower and inspired me to write The Improvisational Cook.

Olney’s dynamic approach became a guiding principle behind my work as a professional chef, and later, as a food writer, culminating in A New Way to Cook. Throughout the years, I developed a systematic way of helping readers think creatively about food, and illustrate my approach with charts, tips, and other useful techniques. This fluid, possibility–driven way of cooking has proven to be one of A New Way to Cook’s most popular elements. It was clear that a book on improvisational cooking for the home, not a chef’s book, was greatly desired.

The Improvisational Cook took two years to create. During that time I carefully notated my own improvisations and the thought processes as I cooked, then retested the results to make sure they were consistent enough for the home cook. I developed in–depth explanations to help readers understand the internal logic of each recipe and ways to think about improvising on it. I also spoke to many cooks — both professional and novice — about their experiences with improvising, so I could address the subtle aspects of psychology and creativity. The results is hundreds of recipes, and thousands of ideas that will get creative and culinary juices flowing.