Doing something once isn’t trying made me think about how we make something the best it can be by doing it many times.
I first realized this idea watching Claire from the Bon Appetit YouTube channel develop a recipe. The chefs in the test kitchen don’t make a dish once. When they are developing a recipe they do dozens of interactions of that idea.
These are people who have skills and understand the fundamental language of food. You can throw them in the woods with some ingredients and they can make delicious food in just one go. But that isn’t developing something.
Yet we newbies often think if we make a recipe we found on the internet once and it doesn’t taste good, that means it sucks.
Iterations is core of development. Its very definition is to do a thing many times. To try something and learn. To do something that worked again to improve it or make sure it wasn’t a fluke.
Here’s some tips to make your iteration more effective.
Change One Thing At A Time
Between iterations don’t make too many changes. I recently refined a recipie for low-carb bread. The first iteration I just followed the recipe. It was doughy, fell apart too easily, and wasn’t thick enough. I didn’t try to fix all of those at once. Instead I focused on doughyness. Reduced the water and tried again. Less doughy. Reduced the water again. Now it was baked all the way through. I went on to trying to fix the thickness.
Another reason to change things one at a time is things might be connected. This can cause false feedback. If I changed the water content and cooked it longer it might crumble more, but I wouldn’t know what was causing the change in crumble.
Also the connection might work for me. Maybe changing the water content to fix the doughiness might fix the crumble as well.
When you are iterating it is important to know exactly what you did. Anytime you change something write it down. Specifically.
What was the exact new amount of water after I changed it by decreasing it? If you don’t write it down you won’t be able to reproduce it. I once made a great balsamic vinegarette for a party, but I didn’t write down what spices I used, so I have no way to reproduce it.
Also write down the result you get from a test. “I changed X and the new version of Z”. For example, “I changed the water from 1 cup to 3/4 of a cup, and the bread was less doughy but still soft in the middle.”
When working on a recipe I also write down things to try. If you document the variables you are going to test, you’ve got options for your next test. If you try something you may get an idea to make it better in a future version. For instance while working on getting the bread less doughy, I thought it would be cool to put it in a round container instead of small loaf shaped container I was using. I added that to my try list. I didn’t change it because that is another variable.
I hope you don’t take this to just be about cooking. You can apply this distinction to all kinds of things. Writing, speeches, videos and all kinds of content. It is in a sense a scientific approach. Not quite that rigorous, but a meticulous way of making something better.
Hopefully the next time your “try” something once and don’t like it, you’ll think about this distinction and give it another go.
*If you really want to see iteration in recipe development check out the Bon appetit team come up with the perfect pizza.