One of the things I love about cooking and recipe development is that I’m constantly learning new things. Almost every day I learn something new or become inspired by something I’ve seen, read or tasted. However, like most cooks, I sometimes get into a ‘kitchen rut’ where I can’t think of what to make for dinner or I’ll make the same few favourites over and over. Here are some of the top things that spark my creativity. Perhaps some of these ideas will help your creativity in the kitchen as well!
Even though I rarely use recipes any more, I still love cookbooks. I get a lot of ideas from reading recipes and really enjoy being transported to a far-off restaurant or location through the author’s words and photos. I’ve listed a few favourites in My Reading List but I have dozens of others that I return to again and again when I’m in search of inspiration.
I love magazines of all types, from fashion to interior design but food magazines are the only ones I usually save. I don’t subscribe to any in particular, preferring to see what looks good each month on the newsstand. I often read Gourmet, Food and Wine, Cucina Italiana and Fine Cooking, while occasionally picking up copies of Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, Cook’s Illustrated or Saveur (ok, so maybe I have a bit of a magazine addiction!)
Most cooks today use the internet to look for recipes and tips (obviously, or you wouldn’t be reading this now!). Google is a great tool if you have ingredients you’re looking to use and need a recipe. I also enjoy websites such as Chowhound.com, where food lovers discuss everything from the best way to roast a chicken to what to do about rude dinner guests. There are many great blogs and websites I refer to as well, including Chocolate and Zucchini, epicurious.com, Barcelona Food Girl (she’s a friend of mine), Foodgawker (I’ve had a few items posted on there) and Tastespotting.
Most major newspapers have a food section at least once a week and many of these are posted on-line. The New York Times has a weekly column by cookbook author Mark Bittman and regular articles by other notable food writers. The Los Angeles Times is another great resource to see what’s going on in California. Registration may be required to access on-line content but there is usually no cost to do so.
My favourite way to get new ideas is by going to restaurants and trying new dishes. I’m particularly interested in how chefs are using local products and I’m always inspired by the menus at noted Canadian restaurants such as JKWB, Harvest, Joe Beef and Au Pied de Cochon. Most restaurants have menus posted on-line and I enjoy perusing them for ideas. Chez Panisse and Lucques in California post their menus regularly and they are always great for seasonal ideas. These are all acclaimed restaurants, however, I can get ideas from anywhere, including chains and fast food places – I often come up with ideas about how I can improve upon a dish or make it with fresh ingredients.
Traveling to new places always refreshes me and gives me new ideas for the kitchen. I enjoy learning about new cultures through their art, architecture, history and of course, their cuisine. Trying new dishes and learning how to cook them opens a whole new world in the kitchen. I’ve learned how to make paella in Spain and the perfect bolognese sauce in Italy and look forward to every new adventure as a chance to add to my kitchen repertoire.
The first cooking program I ever saw on tv was a Julia Child show when I was ten. I was fascinated, even though it would be many years until I learned how to cook. I don’t watch cooking shows as often as I used to but there are a few programs I do enjoy on occasion on Food Network Canada, such as The Barefoot Contessa, Iron Chef America and Chuck’s Day Off, featuring the chef from Garde Manger in Montreal. I also like some of the PBS food programming on Saturdays, particularly Jose Andres’ show Made in Spain and vintage Jacques Pepin programs.
There is nothing more inspiring to me than walking through markets with fresh produce, meat, fish and cheese piled high on a Saturday morning. I like to pick what looks fresh and figure out what to do with it once I get home. Because the seasons change so quickly where I live, there are always new things to try. The first asparagus of spring or the perfect August peach never fail to inspire me to come up with new and exciting ways to use them.
We all have to eat every day and cooking can be a great creative outlet so have fun with it!