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For many chefs (myself included), there comes a time when you must know when to stop. I’m not talking about quitting cooking I’m talking about the creation of new dishes and the thinking behind food. There is a level of maturity or confidence allowing some chefs to understand when to stop. To understand that the last little dot of gel or micro herb is completely unnecessary, neither complimenting or adding additional depth to the dish.

I often find myself reaching for more ingredients without knowing why, something is missing, it needs more color or I need to fill that space. It also helps to have an honest voice willing to put the breaks on your creativity when your work selfishly becomes about you and less focused on food.

THINK IT THROUGH

I have found I loose my way when energy in channeled into a singular line of creativity or ingredient. Meaning I was so intent on getting one element perfect that I lost track of the others and fell back on my defaults – a little puree here, a crisp garnish there and something green randomly around.

The entire experience and combination of all elements on the plate is so important, there is a reason why some flavor combinations have become timeless classics. By thinking it through what I mean is understanding the product and what you want to do with it. A real skill is being able to execute your thoughts on the plate so it translates to your guests. The ultimate compliment is a guests praise that reflects your original thinking and goals for the dish.

You want the flavors to be well balanced, without competing? Or is there a single flavor that should ride above the rest? The texture of the braise is silky smooth so aim to compliment or you need crunch to counter the creamy texture? Thinking about where you are going with the entire dish rather than singular elements helps you understand when enough is enough as there is a clear goal to be achieved.

 

 SOCIAL MEDIA

There is so much food imagery on social media these days, especially on all my feeds. It’s also the rise of the social media “food artist”. A food artist is the creator of those ridiculously beautiful & designed plates that pop up all over Instagram. In the past these culinary artists worked in relative secrecy assisting chefs with food magazines or cookbook spreads but now social media has provided a platform of unprecedented reach. Don’t get me wrong I am often inspired by the amazing table layouts and accessories as well as perfectly manicured and photographed food, but also I understand fact from fiction.

The food artists cardinal sin is that they create dishes solely for visual effect, likes and shares. Re-creating some of these dishes in a busy service is next to impossible, also there is little culinary value to the colors and swirls forming the foundation of a food artists canvas.
It’s this type of highly exposed and manipulated imagery that pushes chefs to set unrealistic standards on guest expectations and food presentation. The challenge these days is teaching young chefs that no Instagram filter, garnish layers or number of likes will ever beat the pure satisfaction of receiving fresh, hot and delicious food that looks like food.

 

EAT IT YOURSELF

Sounds strange right? Surely every chef eats their own food before serving it to the guests? You would be surprised how many don’t, or if they did it’s just 2-3 spoonfuls before passing godlike judgment on the latest creation. This is a massive mistake and how many chefs loose sight of when enough is enough.

Chefs need to understand how it feels to finish the entire plate. Sometimes flavor combinations begin great but finish poorly, other times it grows and by the last spoonful your in love. Experience the entire dish as your guests receive it, even better have another talented chef participate with a green light to be brutally honest. It’s the chef’s chance to understand the guest experience which is far more important than his or hers own personal opinion.

Building your palette is similar to developing muscle memory, the more you taste the easier it becomes, but if you stop using these muscles they shrink and disappear. The more you taste and recognize certain flavors or combinations the easier becomes. When you first began cooking others told you when it was right or wrong, later in life you and your guests make this decision together.

There are cuisines like Thai where there are no recipes, you cook only with your senses – taste, smell, touch and sound. Thai recipes are learnt by understanding balance and knowing when it tastes & smells just right, they know when enough is enough. People search for flavors not dishes, meaning it’s not just about getting your “Som Yum” it’s about who is making it and how it tastes.

There are so many factors in Thailand that make recipes irrelevant and experienced pallets paramount. The heat of the fresh chilies changes during the year, are the limes freshly picked or 3 days in the chiller? Thin or thick slices of green papaya? Tamarind for sweetness or sugar? Is it a new wok or old wok? What type or burner is powering the heat? Which soy or oyster sauce brand is preferred? Homemade chili paste or store bought and of course where in Thailand does the chef come from?

 

ITS UP TO YOU

Be honest with yourself, encourage negative and positive comments from others, if you think it’s not needed it’s probably not. Keep track of when something was successful and when it wasn’t. Get back to basics and keep building your palette, the greatest form of knowledge is experience.

Try not focusing on single ingredients, keep the whole picture in mind. Food is already beautiful, never sacrifice flavor or temperature for unnecessary “fluff”. Don’t be pressured by popular culture, try using it only for inspiration. Trends are called trends for a reason.

Begin with a goal rather than only ingredients, it’s so easy to get caught up in the moment. Aim to have your vision translated into the guest experience, returning to you as a compliment.

Enough is enough.

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