“I don’t think food is meant to be hoarded or kept exclusive”: A Q&A with chef Nick Chen-Yin about his open-source cookbook featuring recipes from Toronto’s top chefs
After closing his barbecue joint Smoke Signals a few years ago, Nick Chen-Yin put his restaurant dreams on the back burner. While plotting his next project, Chen-Yin went back to working as a graphic designer to make ends meet. Now, he’s combined his culinary and graphic design skill sets to create an open-source recipe repository that’s full of how-tos from local chefs on how they make their famous dishes. There are recipes from Jesse Fader (Superpoint, Paris Paris), Craig Wong (Patois), Kyle Rindinella (Enoteca Sociale), Patti Robinson (Robinson Bread) and a dozen others. Open Source Recipes to Be Used in Quarantine During A Global Pandemic isn’t just recipes from Chen-Yin’s chef pals, though. As the name suggests, anyone—even white-belt home cooks—are invited to submit dishes for the digital archive. We chatted with Chen-Yin (that’s him below) about how the project came to fruition.
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How did this project come about?
It started as a project between friends. Some of us—the non-chefs—were getting lazy and bored with what they were eating, so we pooled some recipes. I then decided to make it a decentralized document, so it could be widely shared. I figured that other people were missing dishes from their favourite restaurants. I started by asking other chefs I know to contribute recipes, and nine days later, volume one of the cookbook went live.
Volume one, you say…
I’m batch-publishing the recipes in volumes because I have to edit and lay out the submissions. It takes a lot of time, and I’m still working my day job. I’m aiming to get volume two up next week.
Since you’re already working full time, why bother with this project? Why is it so important to you?
I don’t think food is meant to be hoarded or kept exclusive. There’s something incredibly democratic about it. Food is almost open-source by nature. It’s meant to be a shared experience. I think right now, what we’re missing from the food world is the context, atmosphere and memories that restaurants helped to create. We’re missing that dearly, and I’m hoping this can maybe, in a small way, retain a bit of that connection.
How many recipes have you received?
There are 34 recipes in the first volume. Since launching four days ago, we’ve had another 30 entries roll in. This thing—and I’m sorry if it’s too early to make this joke—is going viral. I’ve had strangers from Europe and Asia contact me about the cookbook.
How is the cookbook organized? Can readers search for recipes?
You can’t just go search for a pasta dish, but the book is colour-coded according to recipe type: red for meat, blue for fish, green for veg, purple for desserts, teal for drinks and yellow for breads and preserves. The whole spirit of the book was to keep it kind of scrappy, like a work in progress. I don’t want it to be precious or overly designed. This isn’t supposed to be a digital cookbook to rival Alinea—it’s more like The Anarchist Cookbook.
Are there any chefs you’d love to see contribute to the project?
I have some chef friends from Hong Kong contributing to the next volume, but in terms of international chefs I admire from a culinary perspective? I am not pining for anyone in particular. To be honest, I’d be excited if someone like Jamie Oliver submitted a recipe. I’m just happy that people are using it and sharing it.
Which recipe of yours did you include in the book?
I included the mac and cheese from Smoke Signals. It was a fan favourite, and everyone’s been asking me for the recipe since I closed the restaurant.
Have you made any of the other chefs’ dishes?
I made Canice Leung’s dumplings and Werewolf Pizza’s pepperoni pizza, and they were both great. Some of the recipes do require specialty ingredients, though. The one thing I will say is that I hope that this book doesn’t encourage people to go shopping right now. We should all be staying home and only going out for essentials.