Where exactly does a “new” dish come from? Does it come in a flash of inspiration as though the cosmos had chosen me as its humble vessel? Or do I raid the Moosewood Cookbook for the umpteenth time, fussing over the presentation in hopes that nobody discovers my pilferage? Is it the next logical step in a unique and constantly evolving culinary vocabulary? Or do I riff on a classic dish by simply changing out one of its ingredients? The answer is…
There is no answer! Not one answer, anyway. New dishes are inspired in many different ways (including the aforementioned). So, in an attempt to answer the initial question, I’ve decided to offer a glimpse into the process. In this case, it goes something like this…
It’s Wednesday – back to work day (Tuesday is our only day off – family day with the kids). We’ve reformatted the menu so that more than half of it changes on a weekly basis. The weekend was busy and seriously kicked my ass, so I haven’t planned the menus for the upcoming weekend yet. That means the menus have to be finished today.
I sure hope the cosmos has my back today (just kidding, sort of).
For the purpose of this exercise, I’m going to single out one of the dishes I came up with and try to recreate the process. The new dish will be part of the five-course Chef’s Tasting Menu and will also be available a la carte. This is how it appears on the menu:
Heirloom tomato “garden”
Tomato spheres, mushroom “soil”, mesclun, tomato sorbet
A little back story: It turns out I’m something of a “food nerd” (my wife would argue that although this is the truth, it is greatly understated). I have a lot of cookbooks. I like to read other restaurant’s menus in my spare time. I download photos of other restaurant’s food from Flickr. It can get a little obsessive. Although this can sometimes be annoying when you are, indeed, my wife – it can be of great benefit when it’s time to write menus.
Back to the present: I like to start with seasonality. July 18th, hmmm… HEIRLOOM TOMATOES!!! One of my favorite ingredients to work with. My first thought is to go with the “theme and variations” model. For instance, here’s the verbage for the dessert from last week’s Chef’s Tasting Menu:
Study in corn, the dessert
Ganache, espuma, dessert “chowder”, ice creme
This was a classic “theme and variations dish”. Each of the listed components (ganache, espuma, etc.) was made from corn. So, my next thought was, “I did the theme and variations last week – how can I tweak it a little bit?” Hmmm… the “garden” idea…
Sometimes ideas kick around in my head for a while before I actually take them for a spin. Ever since I read about Spanish chef Ferran Adria’s dish entitled “Thaw 2005”, I had wanted to experiment with this concept. If you are not familiar with Adria, you should be – but that’s a topic for a different day. “Thaw 2005” was Adria’s first dish that literally mimicked the natural world. Love the concept! My dish will mimic a tomato garden.
First, the tomatoes. I haven’t completely given up the “theme and variations” idea. I will present the tomatoes in a variety of preparations. For now, I’ve settled on three: their natural state, tomato spheres and tomato sorbet.
*Natural state – Very simple. I’ll use a small melon baller to create mini-tomatoes.
*Tomato spheres – I’m liking Mr. Adria today. For the spheres, I’ll make tomato water and then utilize another Adria innovation – reverse spherification. This will create a mini-tomato with a soft gel exterior and a liquid interior with an intense tomato flavor.
*Tomato sorbet – Variety is good. The tomato sorbet introduces contrasting texture and temperature.
For the soil, I will make a mushroom duxelle that I will utilize as the base of a mushroom “cookie”. The cookies will be turned into a crumble – voila, soil! Finishing touches will include basil stems (tomatoes paired with basil – nothing new there – sometimes I like the wheel as it is) and micro greens. Although the plating is still a vague picture in my mind, the basic idea is to spread a layer of the “soil” on the plate, then randomly place the three different tomato preparations on top of the soil. The basil stems and micro greens will garnish the mini-”tomatoes” and serve as the tomato “plants”.
So far, so good – but a little too esoteric. Since this dish is functioning as the salad in the tasting menu, I’ve decided to place a more literal salad next to the “garden”. The salad will be mesclun mix tossed with tomato vinaigrette (yet another tomato variation).
And the dish is complete – in theory, anyway. There are always tweaks and adjustments as the actual components are being made. I’ll keep you updated.
July 14, 2010