The key to any dish is building a solid foundation of flavor that can be expanded upon, but some of the most classic dishes have been created by mistakes or experimenting with different flavors. Any chef or cook should use food as a medium to be creative. One thing that I particularly love to do is take an established dish and put my own twist on it. This allows me to start with a solid foundation, and from there I can use different herbs, spices, proteins, veggies or fruits to make the dish my own. Eventually through this process I come up with 2 or 3 completely new dishes in my head. This is one of the main reasons I love to cook, the creativity it allows me to express. Not only can you come up with new dishes, but the way you plate the dish can make it new and innovative alone. Here are a few examples of dishes I have made and how I changed them to make it my own.
Chicken Pot Pie:
I made this dish for a get together with friends. It consisted of paprika spiced chicken, onions, celery, carrots, apples, with a sweet potato biscuit crust. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it. Then I made a pot pie for my wife which consisted of lump crab meet, shallots, fennel, and peas with a pie crust. She told me that this is one of her most favorite dishes that I have ever prepared for her. The pot pie I made for my friends was done casserole style, while the dish I made for my wife was cooked in individual ramekins. Each dish looked completely different but was a derivative of the Pot Pie.
I now have plans to create recipe for a Caribbean Pot Pie made with okra, jerk spiced chicken, yucca, onions, carrots, coconut milk with a plantain biscuit crust. I will post the recipe once I test it.
Cioppino is a seafood stew in a tomato and white wine broth usually served with garlic toast. I have made traditional Cioppino many times, so for a twist I added coconut milk, green curry, and red pepper flakes. As I was making the dish I just got motivated to do something different, so I made the changes and it came out absolutely wonderful. For the seafood components, I used cubed black sea bass, scallops, and shrimp. Traditionally crab, clams, mussels, squid are used. So you can mix and match ingredients for your preference.
Everyone seems to have their own recipe for delicious French Toast. For a birthday party I was catering I decided to put it on the menu. So I thought about how I could transform French Toast into something completely different. I started with using Challah bread. Challah is a Jewish braided bread made from eggs, flour, water, and sugar. Then I made a Creme Brulee custard consisting of milk, heavy, cream, vanilla, and sugar. I cook the mixture until it was at custard consistency. Once it was cooled, I dipped my bread into the custard and then cooked it on the flat top. I accompanied the French Toast with cinnamon butter, and a mixed berry compote of strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries cooked in red wine and sugar. The dish was a hit at the party. The combination of flavors worked really well together. Now I am searching for ways to build upon this dish to make it different and even better. One idea I had was for a dessert chocolate french toast, with a caramel butter, topped with whipped cream. We will see how this one comes out.
You can do a lot with food, you just have to be creative and be willing to take chances. Sometimes you win and sometimes it doesn't work out, but then you just go back to the drawing board and come up with a new game plan.