By Matthew Robinson, author of Knickerbocker Glory: A Chef’s Guide to Innovation in the Kitchen and Beyond, www.
It happens all the time. We cooked and cooked then ate and ate and then did not know what we wanted to cook anymore. The age-old question, “What’s for dinner?” nibbles on us every day and is hard to answer without some fresh inspiration. It isn’t something that finding just one new recipe will fix. We need a totally new perspective to help us create amazing dishes the likes of which our pots and pans have never seen before.
Below are ten ways to get you thinking differently, creating new dishes and “WOW” moments at mealtime.
Explore the Unexplored
One of the simplest ways to create something new in your kitchen is to simply start by exploring a new culture. Sure, there are the obvious culinary cultures (French, Italian, Chinese), but the trick is to go off the eaten path. Ask the odd questions: What’s for breakfast in Botswana? What’s for midday meal in Martinique? How about supper in Singapore? The alliteration is not compulsory, but you get the idea. Plus, by coming to the cuisine with fresh eyes, the potential can be endless.
Fusion Cuisine Revisited
The simplest and most elegant culinary innovation ever to take the world by storm is Fusion Cuisine. The mash-up of the food world can be executed in a million ways but also re-invented and taken to the next level. Indeed, melding cuisine from different countries has been done before (and there is much more to be done!), but what about more local fusions, like Blurring the Mason Dixon Line for a North-South fusion, or San Fran meets North Carolina Barbeque, a new East Meets West, or even Lex(ington)-Mex-Kentucky Derby Pie meets Flan!
The fusion theme can be taken to even greater lengths. How about holiday fusions? Imagine what a Fourth of July Yule Log might look like or a President’s Day potato latke. The fusion of holiday themes like Christmas and Independence Day or President’s Day and Hanukkah has great potential to create something never celebrated before. Both big and small changes to the customary foods on these occasions will certainly lead to WOW moments.
A common source for new inspiration can of course be the trillions of recipes out in the world. Sometimes, though, this needs a new spin. Do a Switcharoo. Take a recipe you find or even your favorite recipe and swap out 30% of the ingredients for something different. Change the pork to tofu, the chicken to duck, the mint to basil and on and on. It might be trickier with baked goods, but give it a try anyway. That is the joy of cooking—the worst case scenario is that it isn’t perfect, but no harm is really done.
The Switcheroo 2
Another spin is changing the cooking techniques used in a recipe. How about steam instead of broil, poach instead of fry, grill instead of boil? You can also apply different culinary techniques to various culinary styles, leading to something interesting. Try applying a wok to French cooking, a grill to soup ingredients, etc.
The One Ingredient Shuffle
Doing one thing and doing it well is a mark of expertise. In cooking, the ability to raise one ingredient to new heights is a great challenge to take on. Try something new by focusing on only one ingredient but presenting that ingredient in four or five different and fresh ways. How about avocado: Avocado Mousse, Avocado Pie, Deep Fried Avocado, Avocado Dumplings, Avocado Stuffing, Avocado Ice Cream. Make it challenging by picking ingredients that make you stretch you imagination and skills, like Jicama, Kale, Scallion, Beef Liver or Pork Belly.
Recreate The Past
Creating something new can often be done by looking into the past. Think about all those occasions where good food was served. The menus we remember are perfect fodder for updating and re-creating. What was served at your wedding, your cousin’s bar mitzvah, your baby’s christening? Take that meal or favorite food from that occasion and re-do it in new style. In the same way, someone else’s food memories could also be a perfect starting point. Ask Granny what her first food memory was then create it with a modern twist.
Chopped At Home
A surprise can really get the creative juices flowing. What better way to be surprised than to not know what you are going to cook? Ask a friend or family member to buy secret ingredients for each course of a meal that you will prepare. The instant inspiration will set the tone and energy for a great meal. And, as a bonus, there is no chance of you being “chopped.”
We do not stuff stuff enough. A turkey, a chicken, a flounder on occasion, maybe a mushroom for a party, but stuffing should not be underestimated. To get to something new, stuff it and stuff more broadly than the usual suspects. Stuff a banana, stuff a steak, stuff a peach, stuff a hamburger, stuff an avocado! Also, don’t just stuff with bread – try sausage, mushrooms, eggs, nuts, potato, or fresh or dried fruits.
BONUS INSPIRATION: Put an Egg On It. There is not much that won’t be improved with an egg on it or in it. How about an egg on pizza or poached in a soup?
These are just a few ways to get inspired. Finding a new perspective is sure to help you create something new and discover new “WOW” moments in your kitchen.
Send questions to matthew.robinson@
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Matthew Robinson is the author of Knickerbocker Glory: A Chef’s Guide to Innovation in the Kitchen and Beyond (with contributions from chef, recipe developer and cookbook author Andrea Lynn, on sale 9/1/13). He has spent 17 years in the food industry as a scientist, spokesperson, and product developer. He is the founder of exCLAIM International, a nutrition science and claims strategy consultancy and creator of TheCulinaryExchange.net, an online destination for information regarding innovation in the culinary arts. Matthew has an M.S. from The University of Georgia in Nutrition Science and is a graduate of the professional culinary program at The French Culinary Institute in New York City. Follow him on twitter @culinaryxchange.