Whether you’re an ambitious restauranteur trying to stand out from the competition or a passionate amateur just trying to feed your family interesting meals, you’re interested in getting more creative with the food you make. Being creative can introduce your own palate to a range of different flavors and textures – and it can help all your guests walk away feeling satisfied.
Here’s how to do it.
Try Lots of New Restaurants
First, it’s important to try a lot of new restaurants. If your only exposure to the culinary world is your favorite little restaurant down the block and the same grocery store you’ve shopped at for 30 years, you’re not going to get much creative inspiration.
Instead, it’s better to fully explore your city. Whenever possible, venture to a restaurant you’ve never been to or heard about before. When you get there, study the menu and try one of the weirdest dishes you can find. You might discover a new ingredient, combination of ingredients, or a fundamentally new eating experience you’ve never had before. The more you do this, the more you can add to your culinary familiarity – and the more ideas you’ll be able to generate when trying to come up with dishes of your own.
Read Food Magazines
Next, make sure you read food magazines and mainstream food blogs on a semi-regular basis. These magazines often feature top chefs, restauranteurs, and other culinary innovators, providing insights on what they think are the latest trends or ingredients whose value is being overlooked. Publications often try to predict the next trends, getting ahead of the curve, so it’s a great way to get a tip that few people have put into practice.
Pay Attention to Social Media Trends
Follow a number of influencers in the social media space. Find chefs, amateur cooks, food experimenters, and other people who have inspired you in the past and add them to your feed. While you’re there, pay attention to any new trends or talking points that seem to reverberate throughout the culinary community. It’s a great way to get the jump on a new upcoming trend or discover something that everyone else is missing.
Experiment with New Ingredients
There’s no way around it. You have to cook with new ingredients if you want to be a more creative chef. Head to niche grocery stores in your area that sell ingredients you can’t find elsewhere. Make it a point to cook with something you haven’t used before at least once a week. If you do this, you’ll gradually expand your working knowledge, growing familiar with a much broader spectrum of different flavors and textures. Then, when you’re trying to come up with a wholly new dish or trying to perfect a meal that’s almost perfect, you can tap into one of those ingredients and add the finishing touch. This is also a great way to improve your improvisation skills.
Blend Different Styles
Some of the best food innovators in the world are ones capable of blending two culinary styles – even if they seem incompatible. Take a few ingredients, or an entire dish from one culture or region, and add a spin from another culture or region to elevate it to new heights. These Frankenstein-style concoctions won’t always be the most delicious dishes you’ve cooked, but they have the power to present flavor combinations that have never before been tasted.
Try a Classic Combination in a New Light
Human beings tend to prefer specific types of flavor and food experience combinations; for example, most of us love the contrast of sweet and salty, and thus prefer foods that have a bit of salt with a bit of sweetness. It’s common to put a pinch of salt in hot chocolate or add salted caramel to a sundae. But you can also get more creative with this combination, experimenting with a “salt” flavor and a “sweet” flavor that wouldn’t seem to go together.
Talk to Specialists
Consider talking to specialists, especially those in the culinary industry. Talk to a friend about their culture’s cuisine. Talk to a chef about the dishes they’re planning on creating or introducing this year. Talk to a food scientist about their perspectives on modern food trends. The more you get to know these other experts and the more you learn from them, the more you’ll be able to add to your own creative food work.
Everyone has the potential to be a creative, innovative chef. All it takes is some willingness to think outside the box and push your own limits.