Ockham’s Pizza Cutter

Recipe “busting” is a favorite pass time of just about every accomplished cook and/or baker I know. It’s not hard to understand why, since oh what a devious thrill one gets from unlocking the mysteries of a top restaurant or chef’s “secret” recipe all by one’s self. You can’t hide from me Wolfgang, oh no no no no…

People who have worked inside restaurants have a special advantage here, since they know first-hand how time-pressed, resource poor and fundamentally cheap most restaurant owners are. They know most chefs would never dream of using a rare and expensive “secret” ingredient if they could possibly avoid it. Nor would they bother with a menu item that demanded days of preparation, since who can afford the time, space and manpower? They know that the vast majority of kitchen secrets hide in plain sight, that the recipe for the tomato soup so many customers lust for is really nothing more than canned tomatoes, onion, basil and salt.

Thus for all recipe busters, the cardinal rule is that the simplest answer is almost certainly the right one. This becomes increasingly true the less expensive a restaurant gets. Pizzeria owners work in competitive environments with razor-thin margins. They depend on volume. So is a pizza place owner going to add yellow food coloring to his dough just to make it look prettier? No way. Is he going to employ a starter that calls for a 2-day fermentation? What if he gets a sudden rush? Nope. Will he use a top-quality extra virgin olive oil to add that little extra touch of richness and aroma? Not in a million years.

Thus whenever you set out to break a secret recipe, it pays to take a moment to consider where it comes from. The more you can get into the heads of the people who invented it to identify their needs and constraints, the more you can narrow down the range of possible ingredients and process steps, and the better your chances for success.

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