If you were to ask any chef what inspired them to work with food, you would inevitably get just as many answers as there were people you asked. However, when you break everything down, it all comes back to the satisfaction of pleasing a patron being bar none the greatest feeling in the world. What most people are unaware of is the vast amount of work that goes into creating a special dish that will deliver this satisfaction. This development of dishes is what really gets the creativity going, and keeps the flame lit inside each of the people involved.
A lot of times, as I am working on a new recipe, I do the preliminary tests at home for my family to judge first. At least for me, this allows me to concentrate on one specific task versus the many tasks being done all at once in a kitchen. The initial stages of creating a dish are what I love most, as you essentially are an artist with a blank canvas and can do whatever your heart desires. Over the next several weeks, I will be posting a series of posts regarding experimentation in the kitchen, with the goal of inspiring home cooks to expand their comfort zone.
Normally the cook has a starting point in mind, whether it’s a certain type of protein or another component; then you begin building your plate around that.(I highly recommend people to get the book titled “The Flavor Bible” by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg) In my case, I have just gotten a new meat grinder and would like the focus to be centered on either sausages or other varieties of ground meat. So once I establish which type of protein I want to do, I then build my flavor profile off of the star of this show.
As soon as I have a concrete idea of which flavors I want to incorporate into the dish, I start to look at the different textures that will be involved. You want a nice contrast in not just flavors, but the composition of the dish also. Think about the person that is going to be eating the dish, and how they would want it to be as easy as possible. You wouldn’t want to have too many crunchy items or too many mushy items, or else the plate has become too one note and one dimensional. The individual nuances in the flavors of each component start to become lost, and can quite drastically effect the outcome.
Look at each dish as a play being presented in the theatre, and the components of the dish are the actors. Each one has a specific individual task, while complimenting the other actors at the same time. Think about a tender piece of filet mignon being matched with a nice side of roasted potatoes or crispy onions. The flavors should be able to stand alone, but match up to one another and enhance the entire experience.
In my case, my end result is that I would like to develop a wonderful ravioli filling, which involves grinding my own meat. I realize that there would be small mistakes made in my first attempt, so I decided to make meatballs my first go around. I figured that I would save myself that work with the ravioli, as I will be developing the specific pasta after I nail the filling. (one step at a time is a safe approach.)
One reason I look forward to my first attempt is that I like to use things that I normally have on hand in my pantry. I decide what kind of specialty items I would like to incorporate as I am tasting the dish. I keep a fairly well stocked spice cabinet, which is very helpful in these moments. I knew I wanted the protein to be pork, and so I mixed into the pork I had cubed up some of the standards; fennel seed, parmesan cheese, black pepper, salt, basil and marjoram. To me, it is a lot of fun to be able to make something of a great starting point just by “playing around” in the kitchen; this is something that becomes a lot more natural the more often that you do this.