Sometimes in order to create a dish that is truly unique, you have to let go of the things you have been taught. After all, innovation can only exist if there is a starting point or an original idea, right? You might feel like creating a mint and arugula pesto, watermelon soup, or a mango shrimp pizza. All of these items may not sound appealing for everyone, but then again they must have sounded good at some point in order to have been born into the culinary universe.
When going out on a limb and getting creative in the kitchen, there are a few things you might want to consider:
* Test your idea in a small batch. Try simply tasting the ingredients individually first then making different combinations.
* Use your noodle! If you are putting chocolate and peanut butter together, it’s likely to taste good, but tarragon and papaya might need a third element to tie it together. Does it need acidity, salt, sugar, heat? Ask all the questions you can – it will only add to your bag of tricks to find out the answer.
* Recipes are your friend. If you want to make a vinaigrette you know it’s usually 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. The type of vinegar or “acid” – orange, lemon, or lime juice, for example – can be adapted or swapped out for the most part with good results. This being said, you should always taste as you go, rinsing your palate each time.
* Add ingredients in small amounts. If you think it needs more lemon juice, add just a touch, then taste. You can always add more, but you can’t take it back out.
* Keep it simple. Less can truly be more and if you have a good concept picked out, try not to over do it. Sometimes a cook will get swept up in the creative process and ends up ruining their dish. I have been there plenty of times and it’s a real bummer. Just try to relax, have fun, and keep things simple. If you do end up with a star fruit beef stew tower with almond milk foam, try not to feel bad about it – instead, feel good about trying something new. People get into ruts with food and you can’t make a magnificent discovery without a few attempts.
If you have never tried cooking fusion or sweet & savoury foods, try following a recipe at first in order to experience the balance the chef was going for – this may help you to create your masterpiece. Pick a dish you have made your own way with the “normal” ingredients so you have a jumping off point, and always get others involved when you can. In my kitchens, we taste everything together and talk about it. Is it too salty, does it need to be puréed more, or is it perfect? These questions shouldn’t put you on guard – they should open your mind up to what your guests will be tasting. With a little confidence and a lot of practice, you can be innovative and exciting in the kitchen all while satisfying your own cravings and curiosities. Enjoy!