Today, I want to talk about cooking. We’re going to experiment with memorizing tabular data in the form of culinary ratios using a combination of the wardrobe method and a simple grid system described by Jerry Lucas and Harry Lorayne in The Memory Book.
You might be thinking, “Wait a minute! Why are we memorizing culinary ratios?”
The answer to that question, allow me to refer you to the article Memory Sports Nutrition, the first in a series by Johann Randall Abrina. In it, Johann rightly observes that while there has been little research into the optimal diet for a memory athlete, there is no shortage of literature on the relationship between diet and brain health. In addition, everyone has their own idea about how to best prepare for intellectual exercise:
In 1754, philosopher and theologian Jonathan Edwards wrote:
“By a sparingness in diet, and eating as much as may be what is light and easy of digestion, I shall doubtless be able to think more clearly…”
Then we have the musings of Ben Pridmore:
“junk food is very much the way to go if you want to be a great memoriser…”
Finally, we have the great Tony Buzan (quoted by Johann):
“Good Food = Good Brain, Junk Food = Junk Brain”
Despite the diversity of opinion, Buzan seems to have the right idea. In the article, Chess Diet: Eat or Play, Yury Markushin expands on Buzan’s assertion by arguing that that the chess champion’s diet is one that’s rich in good carbohydrates, proteins, fish oils, and b-vitamins.
So how do we follow the advice of Mr. Buzan and Mr. Markushin? One of the easiest, and most economical ways, of pursuing a healthy diet is to prepare the food yourself. That’s where the culinary ratios come in.
What Is a Culinary Ratio?
In his book, Ratio, Michael Ruhlman writes that a culinary ratio is a, “fixed proportion of one ingredient or ingredients relative to another…it’s not like knowing a single recipe, it’s like knowing thousands.” In short, a ratio can be thought of as a fundamental recipe from which all other recipes are derived. Let’s look at a quick example:
The most basic bread dough is as follows:
5 Parts Flour : 3 Parts Water (plus yeast)
Everything from pizza dough to fancy artisan breads can be derived from this simple 5:3 ratio. Now, all you need is a little baking know-how and you’re good to go (for more information, I recommend Ruhlman’s book).
Time to start memorizing!
Wardrobes and the Simple Grid
Let’s have a look at our ratios:
As you can see, we’ll be working with five basic ratios: bread, pasta dough, pie dough, biscuits, and pound cake. To memorize the chart, we’ll work through the following steps:
- Set up a letter-number grid with peg words for each cell.
- Assign the chart’s headings to two wardrobes.
- Link the ratio information to the peg words for each cell.
Setting Up the Grid
In the number-letter grid, each column is assigned a letter, and each row is assigned a number (or vice-versa). Each cell is then labelled with its letter-number coordinates.
The next step is to create peg words for each cell in the grid. Each peg word will begin with the letter of it’s column. We’re beginning with column-letters because it’s easier to use a vowel in a peg word if it is designated as the first sound in the word. The second consonant sound of each peg word will come from it’s row number (according to the Major System).
You may have to spend some time memorizing the peg words, but a little extra work in the beginning pays off in the long run. The easiest way to study them is to work down each column (A1, A2, A3, etc.).
Now, well we have to do is associate the information to the appropriate pegs.
Creating our Wardrobes
A wardrobe is an ordered list of words that function as memory pegs. Linking information to a wardrobe results a list that can be easily recalled and navigated.
One of the advantages of using a wardrobe is that the linked information becomes synonymous with each peg word in the wardrobe. For example, if we link 26 pieces of information to the alphabet, the result is a new ordered list of words, each of which refers to a letter. This new list can now function as a second alphabetic wardrobe.
We’re going to use this concept to memorize our chart’s headings. The list of baked goods (left column) and the list of ingredients (top row) will not be contained within the grid itself. Instead they will be stored in two different wardrobes. Together, these wardrobes will function as an index directing us to a specific portion of the chart. This creates a more consistent grid that contains nothing but the actual ratio data, rather than a mix of ingredient titles and baked goods.
First, we’ll link our list of baked goods to each row using peg words from the Major System. This will create our first index. Each baked good will refer us to a specific row in the chart.
- 1 (Tie) – Bread: A loaf of bread putting on a tie
- 2 (Noah) – Pasta Dough: Noah building the ark out of a pile of wet noodles.
- 3 (Moo, a cow) – Pie Dough: A pie, with four legs, grazing in a field and mooing.
- 4 (Roux, an ingedient made with butter and flour) – Biscuit: A biscuit wearing an apron mixing roux in a pan.
- 5 (Lei) – Pound Cake: A pound cake wearing a giant pink lei and hoola dancing.
Next, we’ll link our ingredients to the alphabet using a thematic wardrobe based on animals. This will link each ingredient to a specific column, creating our second index.
- A (Alligator) – Flour: A giant bag of flower, with the head, arms, legs, and tail of an alligator.
- B (Bee) – Liquid (bottle of water): A bottle of water painted like a bee flying around and buzzing like a bee.
- C (Cat) – Eggs: A cat laying eggs.
- D (Dog) – Sugar: A dog singing Pour Some Sugar on Me by Def Leppard
- E (Elephant) – Fat: An elephant eating junk food and getting fat.
Now let’s put this all together. When I think of the word “bread,” I’m directed to row one. Then, to get the ratio, I move through row one from left to right (A1, B1, C1, D1, E1). As I arrive at each column, I know that the “A” column refers to flour, the “B” column refers to liquid, etc.
Linking the Ratio Data into the Grid
Every baked good in our ratio chart doesn’t contain every ingredient. So the first thing we have to do is fill in the blank spots with zeroes:
To link our ratio data into our grid, we’ll create images using a simple Person-Object technique.
- Person: The person performing the action in our image will be the cell’s peg word.
- Object: The object receiving the action will begin with the sound of the number we want to memorize (Major System)
To demonstrate this, let’s look at how we’d link the ratio data for pasta dough (including the zeroes) into our grid:
- Pasta Dough: 3 Parts Flour : 2 Parts Egg
- A2 – 3 Parts Flour: Annie (fictional character from the play, Annie) is trying to shave a monkey.
- B2 – 0 Parts Liquid: A bunny is piloting a in a sailboat.
- C2 – 2 Parts Egg: A giant candy cane fighting a ninja.
- D2 – 0 Parts Sugar: A sand dune opens up and swallows a group of soldiers.
- E2 – 0 Parts Fat: A mutant enchilada drives into a stop sign.
Following the same process for each of our ratios will install the rest of the information into our grid. From now on, when we think of “pasta dough,” we’ll jump to row two of our grid. As we move through the row, the peg word for each cell will remind us of the number amount of each ingredient in our ratio.
An Alternative to Peg Words
As an alternative to memorizing peg words for each cell of the grid, we can create Person-Action-Object images for each cell:
- Person: The person in the image will be the animal for each column / ingredient.
- Action: The action will begin with the sound of the first letter of the row number (Major System)
- Object: The object will begin with the sound first letter of the ratio number want to link to the cell.
Let’s look at a quick example using the pasta dough ratio above.
Pasta Dough: 3 Parts Flour : 2 Parts Egg
- Column A (Flour): Alligator
- Row Two: N
- 3 Parts Flour: M
- An alligator nailing a picture of a monkey the wall.
- Column B (Liquid): Bee
- Row Two: N
- 0 Parts Liquid: S
- A bee (dressed as a soldier) neutralizing an enemy soldier.
- Column C (Eggs): Cat
- Row Two: N
- 2 Parts Egg: N
- A cat nurturing a baby ninja.
- Column D (Dog): Dog
- Row Two: N
- 0 Parts Sugar: S
- A dog nominates himself to a be senator.
- Column E (Fat): Elephant
- Row Two: N
- 0 Parts Sugar: S
- An elephant naming his son after Stephen Colbert.
Today, we created a grid system for memorizing culinary ratios that combined a number of techniques, including Jerry Lucas and Harry Lorayne’s number-letter grid from The Memory Book, the wardrobe method, and even a little bit of Tony Buzan’s Self-Enhanced Memory Matrix (SEM3). While no system is perfect, a good grid system and a little creativity is great way to retain massive amounts of information. If you have any questions, comments, or ideas about how to optimize the grid, share them in the comments.