One of the questions I am frequently asked when people learn I am a chef is "what's your signature dish?" This question is like a giant spotlight on me as I feel like how can can I choose just one thing that I like to cook? But then I realised there are dishes that I happily trot out when company comes over as they are easy, fuss free and I know I can make them without stress. When I was an apprentice and used to doing cooking competitions the best advice my head chef gave me was to cook food I am familiar with. either from the restaurant or my own personal background. The last thing you need when you are already under pressure is to have to gaze at a recipe for ten minutes to work out what in the world you are doing before you even pick up a knife or boil some water.
Cooking at home for yourself and cooking for a dinner party can take you from blissed out foodie instragraming your creation to an re-enactment from Bridget Jones's diary with the blue soup because she had the wrong string to tie her vegetables. No one likes blue soup. Well not me anyway!
Here are some simple steps to creating your own signature dish with ease
1. Cook with ingredients you are familiar with - can't pronounce quinoa let alone know what it is? Perhaps not the best idea to have it in a dish for a dinner party. Experimenting with food is great but not at the cost of your sanity on party day. Choose foods that you know what to do with and how they taste and enjoy to build your confidence. The more you cook the more confident you will be. Think of familiar flavours as the training wheels of your repertoire. They are there to support you until your confident enough to go it alone.
2. Keep it simple. The recipe may give a time frame as a guide but realistically things can crop up that delay the process. Phone rings, kids are around, an ingredient is forgotten so you pop to the shops, all sorts of things can happen on party day that can make a 30 minute meal a hour and a half slog. Recipes with special techniques or labour intensive ingredients/processes such as peeling, roasting then slicing can me more hassle than its worth. By all means as you develop your skills a more adventurous dish can be tackled but this is about creating a simple go to meal for those less confident behind a stove. Methods that aren't a full page long are a good indication of a easy to tackle recipe. Simple doesn't mean boring and the joy and success of creating these meals can elevate simple to elegant with attention to details and fresh ingredients.
3. Cook something you already enjoy and take it up a notch. Love cooking pasta? Research interesting flavour combinations or presentation styles to take your dish from family to dinner party. Simple techniques such as twisting pastas such as linguine or fettuccine on a carving fork to create a long neat nest can make your family recipe a shining star of the table. If you're already familiar with a dish try experimenting with the presentation or substituting some ingredients for an updated version. Love make pies or tarts? Create individual tarts with a sauce and garnish such as raspberry coulis and candied lemons for lemon meringue pie or salted caramel sauce and vanilla ice-cream with a chocolate tart. If the majority of the dish is familiar the fun can be had with the presentation and sides to the dish.
4. Try it and Make notes - sometimes you read a recipe and your own personal tastes/aesthetics feel the dish could use a bit more of this and a little less of that, or sometimes you make a dish and feel some things could be changed for more success. Take note of these observations as this is how you make the dish your own. Chefs use flavour combinations or ideas and add their own personal touch. They may like something a little spicier, would use more colour or cut a vegetable differently. They may grill instead of bake, steam instead of poach. These are the elements of you that make the dish your own. Trust your taste and take notes of what worked and didn't work. Recipes evolved and develop over time. Make it yours. There are many ways to make Caesar dressing. The best way? Your own. If you would rather use a food processor instead of chopping when the chopping isn't seen such as pasta sauce or casseroles, by all means do it if it cuts down time. Recipes that have been handed down will have personal touches added. Everyone has a way of wearing clothes that is their own, why not create food in a way that is yours?
These aren't hard and fast rules but they are techniques I have used to create my own version of things. I have shown in this blog where I have changed up a recipe I have found and altered it to suit my personal tastes. A signature dish isn't just a boring old go to dish, it is something that you enjoy cooking and eating and sharing with friends and family. A signature dish of a restaurant is one that reflects the food style and flavours that are a common thread to all dishes. Have a great bbq marinade? Use it! Have a really great pasta sauce? Use it! Don't be afraid to use what you know, have fun with and experiment with the presentation to update it. Most of all, just have fun. That's the best part of it all :)
P.s Wish someone could show you how to take it up a notch and create your own signature dish? I can come to you and chat about the foods you enjoy and discuss ways to take it up a notch to have you dinner party ready in no time. I can teach you cooking techniques and methods all in the comfort of your own home with the utensils and space your are familiar with. Ask me how today - email [email protected] or ph 0423 450 363 to start creating with me