When people hear what I do for a living, the next question is either one of the following; “What’s your favorite thing to cook?” “What’s your favorite type of food to cook?”. To me these questions are really saying what inspires you as a chef?
It may seem like a fairly simple question to some, but to a Chef it’s much more complicated than that. We walk through a Grocery Store and our brains are firing on all cylinders. “Well if I grab that protein, does it go with the sauce I had in my head, will that go with the starch?” It’s actually quite stressful, and all we’ve done is walk in the door past the flowers!!! We’re not even by the protein or the starches….but we are thinking about what the store will have before we’ve even seen it.
Note: Never walk through a Home Store (Pier 1 Imports, Home Goods, etc.) with a Chef, we start imagining what dishes should go on each plate!!! It could take you HOURS to get us out of a store like that!!!
It’s always easier for me to plan a meal beginning with the protein. It’s going to be the main component of the dish, it will set the tone for the evening, so as a chef that protein needs to be amazing. It doesn’t matter if it’s beef, poultry, fish, lamb, or vegetarian, it needs to look amazing. For example, I was looking for fish one day and I walked past the meat counter and saw the most amazing, beautiful beef short ribs I’d ever seen in my life. I literally stopped in my tracks! I didn’t need them for my fish menu but these short ribs were coming home with me right then! I couldn’t leave them in the store!
As the butcher was packing up my spur of the moment short rib purchase I started thinking about all the wonderful things I could make with them! Short Rib tacos, short rib ragu, or this recipe I had come across of a short rib stew with prunes and roasted butternut squash….that was the winner!!!!! Warm spice smells from cinnamon and clove were suddenly filling my brain….I knew this was going to be a dish to remember!
Now don’t take this to mean that chefs can’t be inspired by vegetables, we most certainly can. It’s just as easy for a bunch of carrots to jump out at me like those short ribs. Summer time with summer vegetables is heaven!!! Making ratatouille with beautiful, fresh grown zucchini and yellow squash is dream come true!!! Going to a Farmers Market and picking out beets still on their stems…..don’t get me started!!!!
The main take away is that as a Chef, I get inspired by fresh ingredients. The fresher the better, for me personally the more local and the more organic the more excited I get. I would start dancing in a store if I didn’t think I’d get looked at funny. The fresher an ingredient is, the less I need to add to the dish to let each ingredient sing!