The Dish on Creating New Dishes

Recipe book, spoonful of cinnamonIf you ever walk into your kitchen and wonder what meal you could possibly make, you’re not alone. Read @1800 culinary team member Kellen Ferkey’s dish about creating new dishes.

I find inspiration in so many different places, it would be foolish to say I get ideas from one source.  Magazines like Food & Wine, blogs like Seven Spoons, cookbooks from my favorite authors, going to visit the competition, a walk through the farmers market… All of these things get me inspired for new dishes in new ways.  If I look through a magazine from Rachel Ray and see a quick makeup on what looks like awesome macaroni & cheese, I think about how that could be done in a restaurant service.

Not everything you see on TV can be practical for a restaurant setting.  When some awesome truffle risotto and asparagus with sauces of different colors on an antique flow-blue plate pops up, you may think, “That’s what I want for dinner!”  What I think is, “That’s a side dish.  A lovely side dish, but where’s the protein?” What I take away from the picture is: can I make this good enough to stand on its own as an entrée, or do I have to augment it into a more mainstream protein/starch/vegetable formula?  Experience tells me that the tried and true methods sell best. This does not apply to the home cook and I fully understand that.

That’s where bloggers come in.  Bloggers are usually highly talented home cooks with tons of inspiration or even professional chefs with (somehow) too much time on their hands.  Blogs like Delicious Days or Seven Spoons, which I mentioned earlier, have a knack for making use of reverent ingredients.  Check out a blog for everything you could possibly think of to do with your holiday meal ingredients like combinations of Aunt Sandy’s dried out turkey with a quick cranberry/jalapeno chutney to make the best use of leftovers.

I check out blogs when I want to do a themed dinner. Why not check out what the leading street food is in Thailand by looking up a blog from an ex-patriot living there giving you the inside scoop?  Authors of the best cookbooks you have never read are also bloggers.  David Chang of Momofuku is a genius.  Look into what he can do with the humble Ramen Noodle.  He is not only an NYC super-chef, but also an amazing author and now, a renowned blogger

This leads me into cookbooks.  I have a 1973 edition of Joy of Cooking that I keep in the office. It is simply amazing.  I have the Top Chef books, the Food & Wine Annuals, new books specifically on building the best hamburger possible.  And still, the humble dirty green giant that is Joy of Cooking is my favorite to peer into.  I had never known that lard was an essential ingredient in cookies for so long.  I had never known that recipes for raccoon, crow, and opossum could be found in a book with a Library of Congress Card Catalog number.  That being said, there are plenty of amazing new books out there.

You don’t see many books that cover every style of cooking, but more and more niche texts are coming out.  There are compendiums of gluten-free, vegan, pescatarian, grilling, roasting, regional dishes and editions from Iron Chefs.  The absolute first thing I do with a book is check the index.  If the index is terrible and the book is titanic, I dump it.  If the index is of superior grade, I will buy a book on the regional dishes of Lithuania.  By far, the best book to have around is

The Food Lovers’ Companion.  At the restaurant we call it, “The Bible.”  The most recent edition is a hardcover with a place holding ribbon and gilt pages.  If we have a question like, are muffins cakes, quick breads, or just muffins, this is the book we go to.  The book has nearly 800 pages, 6000+ entries, illustrations, glossaries on tea, sauces, fish, you name it.  It does not contain a single recipe, but it can tell you what za’atar is.

Lastly, I cannot fail to mention our staff. When I need that little extra something, I know I can turn to one of my team members and bounce an idea off of someone.  And I know they feel the same way about me.  We like to challenge each other to create new and imaginative dishes every single day.  Some days you may be feeling a dry on creative juice, and that’s when to get a think tank going.

When I need to think more simply, and slow things down a bit, Executive Chef Wayne Anderson is usually there to take my head out of the clouds and help me visualize the outcome of a dish.  Wayne is crucial to the functionality of our kitchen.  When I need to look at huge volumes of foods, like cleaning 100 lobsters for tomorrow’s VIP dinner, I turn to Jacob Orth.  Jake is a Marine, husband and a father.  He has taken on challenges I cannot conceive, and he has fed multitudes of his fellow Marines.  He can help me find innovative ways and shortcuts to achieve better results in less time.  When I need something of the Euro persuasion or as we like to call it, “old country cooking,” I turn to David Hayes.  David is an artist, athlete, creator and a workhorse.  I have worked with Dave for six plus years, and sometimes I begin to think he is trying to mind-meld with me, because together we come up with some amazing dishes.  I can never remember what they are, but I remember the flavors.

And finally I must mention our sweet tooth perfectionist, Alicia Thompson.  Without her I wouldn’t have my occasional “extra” cookie, or bit of pound cake, or new ice cream to try.  When all of this comes together, you can see why we can come up with some of the most delicious, humblest, tastiest, and sometimes just plain craziest dishes we put out of this kitchen.  I am proud of our staff, and I love seeing all of the fruits of our labor.

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