Last week we started talking about inspirations for ideas to spice up your kitchen creations (pun intended 😊) One thing I do is become more aware of food and recipes all around me. Creating something you see or hear about someone else eating is an easy way to come up with a new recipe.
As it happened, as soon as I started thinking about writing on this topic, I was given the opportunity to review a new book that is exactly about this. Karen Page’s new book KITCHEN CREATIVITY: Unlocking Culinary Genius—with Wisdom, Inspiration, and Ideas from the World’s Most Creative Chefs gives you over 300 pages filled with ways to come up with new ideas to be more creative in the kitchen.
Topics include flavor dynamics, cooking with all your senses, creating dishes without recipes, learning by copying and more. There are dozens of photos, lists of ingredients, tips from famous chefs, and something about pretty much everything you can think of. (Note: this is not a strictly vegan book but the information in it is fabulous!) Just flipping through it gives tons of ideas for whatever you are making.
And today I get to share an excerpt from Kitchen Creativity, and hopefully it will get you thinking about how you combine ingredients in your recipes ~ and then next week I’ll share a new recipe with the thought process that was behind it 😊
Combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.
Just because two components are amazing doesn’t mean that combining them will work. I have learned this lesson over and over.
—CHEF DANIEL PATTERSON
How do you evolve from simply following recipes to creating your own dishes? You don’t have to be as brilliant as Einstein to be able to take advantage of his insight into the secret of creativity: playing with combinations.
There are endless combinations you can play with in the kitchen, including combinations of flavors, platforms, presentations, states, techniques, temperatures, and textures—and every imaginable combination of those. But when it comes to kitchen creativity, flavor is paramount. So the essential question is: If combining flavors is one of the most important aspects of kitchen creativity, yet if two flavors you love won’t necessarily combine well together, then what is the secret to understanding flavor compatibility?
TAKE A SHORT CUT: FLAVOR AFFINITIES
Becoming familiar with lots of flavor pairings and flavor affinities will help your creativity in the kitchen dramatically and give you the ability to walk into a kitchen and know how to throw together ingredients that will harmonize. How can you get familiar with them? You could think about all the combinations you’ve enjoyed in the past, and pay closer attention to the dishes you eat from this day forward, compiling them into your own personal flavor database.
Or, you could stand on the shoulders of culinary giants, and learn about some of the best classic and modern flavor pairings and flavor affinities in our books The Flavor Bible and The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, which have been called “treasure troves” of this information.
Or, you could do all of the above. Countless culinary students have shown us their annotated copies of The Flavor Bible and/or Culinary Artistry featuring their personal favorite pairings in the margins after we’ve recommended that they track new favorites they run across.
Once you’re familiar with flavor affinities, you’ll have ready-and-waiting ideas to combine, based on groups of ingredients that are already famously well-paired, such as:
almonds + cinnamon + oats
blueberries + maple syrup + orange
bread + jelly + peanut butter
broccoli + chiles + garlic
coconut + pineapple + rum
cranberries + ginger + orange
garlic + olive oil + tomatoes
maple syrup + pecans + sweet potatoes
Then, all you have to do is pick a group of affinities, and start to play with them!
Let’s think about broccoli + chiles + garlic.
You could obviously sauté the broccoli + garlic in olive oil, and add a shake of chile pepper flakes. That would work as a side dish—or you could add some stock to turn it into a sauce for pasta and, if you wanted to take it in an Italian direction, garnish it with Parmesan.
If you were craving Asian flavors, you could wok-fry your broccoli + garlic with Thai chiles, serving it with rice and a ginger-soy sauce.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves—so let’s take a step back and consider the hardest part of creating something new: figuring out where to start.
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
- Start where you are: There’s a reason behind your desire to create a dish in the first place (e.g., cravings, availability, a special occasion). And there are certain resources (e.g., ingredients, equipment) and/or constraints (e.g., budget, time) you might have. These constraints are advantages, because they help narrow your focus. Work with them as reference points.
What’s your starting point? For example:
- an ingredient (whether in-season local produce or an exotic condiment)
- a tool (like your shiny new backyard grill, spiralizer, or takoyaki pans)
- wine (such as a bottle—or two—you were gifted)
2. Your starting point will either be or suggest a primary ingredient.
3. Choose a compatible secondary ingredient.
- Then, consider a compatible tertiary ingredient that will harmonize with your first two ingredients flavorwise, and contribute something of its own to the combination. (If you’re feeling ambitious, feel free to add a quaternary, quinary, senary, septenary, octonary, nonary, or denary ingredient as well.)
Many leading chefs will stop at three major ingredients, and focus on showcasing the flavors of these three, but you can always feel free to add more—as long as the flavor of each is compatible with all of the ingredients to which you’re already committed.
Excerpt from KITCHEN CREATIVITY: Unlocking Culinary Genius—with Wisdom, Inspiration, and Ideas from the World’s Most Creative Chefs © Karen Page, with photographs © Andrew Dornenburg
(Note: this post contains affiliate links)