As Chef at The Blue Door, I am required to create new dishes every week for both breakfast, lunch and dinner. Among other things, changing a menu keeps us challenged and interested, and it also keeps our patrons coming back! And it is this kind of challenge that holds the most difficulty (but also the bulk of the satisfaction) for me, especially if our guests agree.
So how do I create a dish? I have been trying to develop a methodical and logical approach to this dilemma for quite some time and although creating a dish depends on many different factors like mood, time of day and inspiration, here is a graphic representation of my thoughts.
For me, a new dish almost always starts with something that I like anyway – i.e. a specific food, flavor or cooking method that I truly enjoy. After all, I believe that I wouldn’t & shouldn’t be serving something to you that I don’t enjoy eating myself!
Since I believe that freshness is so important, I begin by looking at the seasonality of foods. For example, it is now August and a great time for wild mushrooms. Mushrooms are unusual, tasty and just really awesome, and they make a great base for a dish in many different styles of cooking. Mushrooms also present me with an opportunity to experiment with different and enjoyable textures.
My thoughts are of raw shavings, braised, baked, and mushrooms that are fried crispy.
Next, I consider whether my need is for an appetizer or a main course, and whether the dish should be served hot or cold. Because I have made food my profession, I already know many things about mushrooms – for example, that I love the flavor of fresh thyme with my mushrooms – along with a reduced ruby red port wine.
Refining The Creation
I find myself increasingly challenged creating enjoyable and satisfying vegan dishes. For this reason, I set my goal to create a vegan dish that would highlight chanterelle mushrooms – which basically means I am unable to use animal proteins. Chanterelle mushrooms are really tasty and abundantly available this time of year. The price of $17.50 per pound is also the most reasonable of the year.
Since I have identified the main component of this dish, I now move on to flavor combinations. For me, I frequently resort to a book called The Flavor Bible. Even though the book does not suggest actual useful dishes, it helps me to identify great other components to go along with my main feature.
This week and for this dish, I will be baking the chanterelles with a bit of garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper.
I love potatoes and pickles, and I decided to build these ingredients into this dish as well. Purple potatoes are great for crushing (crushed boiled potatoes using a fork) and are also visually pleasing. Normally I would crush potatoes with lemon juice, olive oil and sea salt. However to make this dish a bit more interesting I will add pickled button mushrooms to the potatoes as well as fresh cut thyme.
I have identified another component I like to feature with this dish: watercress – petite watercress to be exact. This ingredient is available from the Chef’s Garden in Huron Ohio – which is a wonderful source for unusual, organic and fresh vegetables.
I will not be cooking the cress, but rather use it to make a salad.
My favorite vinaigrette uses shallots, which happens to be a perfect match for everything involved here. To add yet another mushroom (which I feel the dish needs), I will add some raw shavings of cremini mushrooms to my salad.
Reviewing The Dish
At this point I start to draw this creation on paper. I keep in mind appearance, perception as well as components. As I draw what I have so far, I evaluate the complexity, time I have to prepare, and the set of skills available to me.
I am not yet satisfied as the dish is lacking components and excitement. In my mind the dish needs more textures and a sauce of some sort. As mentioned before, I absolutely love crispy fried mushrooms – shi-take mushrooms to be exact, lightly salted. As for the sauce, I think ruby red port that is strongly reduced, is a must for mushrooms. I will take this reduction and add some aged balsamic vinegar and a bit of grape seed oil.
Putting It All Together
Ok, I have arrived at a list of components for my final dish:
- Baked chanterelles.
- Purple potato (crushed) & pickled button mushrooms.
- Petite watercress & shaved cremini mushroom salad with shallot vinaigrette.
- Fried shi-take mushrooms.
- Reduced ruby red port wine & aged balsamic sauce.
All the dish needs now is a garnish to finish and give it that extra visual appeal. The garnish will be micro lemon basil, parsley oil and fresh ground pepper. Voila!
Having fun with the food you cook and eat is really one of the joys of life. You should get to know the foods you prepare, to help you make the best from them. Know when a specific food is in season and what pairs well with it. Consider your skill level and also who you are cooking for. While striving to improve and always widen your repertoire, it also important to stay grounded. Remember that it is completely ok to mess up, and that taste is always more important than looks!
I will feature the chanterelle mushroom dish that I wrote about in this article on my Dinner Menu this weekend (19 & 20 August) at The Blue Door Cafe. If you enjoy food (and you probably wouldn’t be reading my blog if this was not the case) why not come in and experience it? In fact, if you do, please note when you make your reservation that you are looking forward to this dish because you read this article and share your thoughts about the dish here.