The Playful Side of a Dish

 

Neal Brown

Neal Brown

By Neal Brown

There are few things I love more than developing a new dish.  And while it can be, and usually is, a lot of work, it is also one of the more playful exercises we chefs do as part of our jobs.

The thing I really enjoy the most about the inception of a new dish is a practice called “flavor bouncing”. You start with a base ingredient and work outward with complimentary and seasonal ingredients to create a cohesive dish.

“Chefs work very hard, and there is a lot of pressure to create a perfect dish each and every time.”

We do this in a graphical fashion similar to “mind mapping,” where you basically connect the components by their ability to PLAY well with the other ingredients. So, in this case, if I want to use Wild Atlantic Cod as my featured ingredient, I then look at what is in season, and that compliments the flavor of the Cod.  In this instance, I use Butternut Squash, Kale, Cauliflower, Chard, and Mushrooms. While any of these things could and do go with Cod, I also have to think about what will appeal to a broad base.

“The creative process is the greatest form of play that we chefs have. It is what inspires us and pushes us to constantly create.”

Once I have the seasonal ingredients mapped out, I then begin to play with different ways to treat the ingredients. In this case, I have decided to use a vegetable peeler and thinly slice the squash to create Butternut Squash “pasta,” thin noodles of squash that will resemble papparedelle pasta. Not only will they look like pasta but because of the starch content, they will also behave like pasta, helping to thicken the sauce when cooked. FUN RIGHT!?

Mapping the seasonal ingredients

Mapping the seasonal ingredients

This is such an important part of being a chef. But it is also really, really satisfying. Chefs work very hard, and there is a lot of pressure to create a perfect dish each and every time. The creative process is where we can create a dish for ourselves, before we go through the editing process to make it approachable for the people that we serve.  The creative process is the greatest form of play that we chefs have. It is what inspires us and pushes us to constantly create. Creating is my ultimate form of play, and it is what keeps me up at night, and gets me out of bed in the morning.

Neal Brown’s bio is available here.

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