Can I have that recipe?

Yes. Yes, you can have that recipe. In this economic climate? Heck, you can have my apron, my toque, my chef’s jacket … Are you looking for a used car? Mine’s parked in the back of the lot. Make me an offer.

But let’s be clear about what you’re asking when you request a restaurant recipe. Many a flattered chef would be happy to simply hand the server a copy of the recipe, printed neatly on an index card, to take back out to your table when he presents your check. That is, he’d hand it to the server if a copy were available. But it’s almost always a little more complicated than that.

Most well-run restaurants do have written recipes for their popular dishes. It’s actually good business practice to do so, since it facilitates food-cost analysis. But you might not even recognize it as a recipe if you had it in front of you. It’s for a large, restaurant-sized batch of, for instance, the sauce that goes on that salmon dish you love so much. And what kind of directions are these? “Bake off one hotel pan of leeks. Run through the robot coupe with a cylinder of chicken stock and strain into a 5-quart Lexan.” A “recipe” like that might make a nice souvenir from your favorite restaurant, but it’s not likely to get that salmon dish any closer to your dining room table.

In addition, we culinary cowboys and girls have access to ingredients in different formats from what you can buy at the grocery store – any grocery store. I know – you’re a culinary detective and you can find anything through the magic of mail order. But we’re having those ladyfingers delivered to us in cases. And while we know how many ladyfingers are in that tiramisu you love so much, and how many are in each package within the case, well – now we have to figure out how many are in a package you can buy at the grocery. And how long they are. And if they’re the same kind of ladyfinger. And what sort of pan you might be building it in at home.

So, when you ask for that recipe, know that, although the chef is almost certainly happy someone likes the food well enough to want to try and duplicate it at home, it may take him quite a bit of work to convert it into a version that will be useful to you. Take my advice: Don’t hesitate to ask for the recipe, but give the cook or server your card and ask them to e-mail it to you when they have time. And then buy them a drink, or leave money with the bar for them to have one after work. You’ll get that recipe eventually – just don’t plan on having it in time for the dinner party you’re having tomorrow night.

Marsha Lynch, a graduate of Sullivan University, has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s and L&N Wine Bar and Bistro. She is now the pastry chef at CafĂ© Lou Lou.