precision can be more misleading than vagueness

One of the pieces collected in Elizabeth David’s An Omelette and a Glass of Wine is an appreciation of the writer X. Marcel Boulestein. Following a reproduction of his recipe for Braised Veal with Carrots, she notes:

“His omission of detail was deliberate. It is impossible, he was in the habit of saying, to give precise recipes. And certainly precision—unless carried to the ultimate degree, as in Madame Saint-Ange’s Livre de Cuisine or Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking—can be more misleading than vagueness. Boulestein was impatient of written detail. When he does specify precise quantities or times he is often wrong. His special gift was to get us on the move, send us out to the butcher to buy that good piece of veal, into the kitchen to discover how delicate is the combination of veal, carrots, little onions, a scrap of bacon, seasonings and butter all so slowly and carefully amalgamated—and all done with butter and water alone.”

I came across this while drinking coffee after my morning yoga class. I have a wonderful group of students, curious and questioning. Their very specific questions have forced me to articulate some of the changes in the way I think about practicing and teaching. There are a lot more different interpretations of poses going on in my class these days, and I do a lot less adjusting. I remember a chef responding to a question about measurements by holding up two very different heads of cauliflower. While there are certain basic techniques with a broad range of applications, who would be so foolish as to specify a precise formula for something as variable as one cauliflower? Or one human body?000_0832Also, how bout them squash? Like little celadon flying saucers. And no two alike.

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