You’re a regular reader of Boost Life and other food-related blogs. You’ve likely worked through countless recipes, and even put your own twists on a few. You’re an accomplished cook who’s ready for more. But when you’re flying blind, without cookbooks, cooking shows, or recipe apps to guide you, how can you find inspiration? Follow my tips and you’ll be shopping and cooking like the improvisational pro that I—and your last exam grader— know you are.
First, however, I should lay out four rules for improvising in the kitchen:
Rule #1: Don’t be afraid
Experimentation in the kitchen is risky. You’ll screw up. And, that’s okay. Just allow yourself to learn from your mistakes (see Rule #4).
Rule #2: Keep it simple
When you’re first trying out unfamiliar ingredients, cook them as simply as possible. As you become more comfortable with them, then you can start messing around.
Rule #3: Taste often
I only recently learned this surprisingly easy rule: taste your food as often as you can while cooking. And in doing so, discover what a dish needs and how you might balance out and improve its flavour during its preparation.
Rule #4: Be reflective
When you’re eating your meal, consider what could have been done better, which ingredients worked together and which didn’t. Not only will this make you a better cook, it’ll make you a better eater.
Now, my tips for inspiration:
Tip #1: What grows together goes together
In an Ontario supermarket you can ignore season, climate and even perishability. You’re left, however, with too much choice. If you spend time learning what vegetables tend to grow together, or visit farmers’ markets and see what local producers are currently bringing in, you’ll be able to narrow your focus, and cook with a manageable range of ingredients that work together surprisingly well.
Tip #2: Eat widely and wildly
The best chefs are the best eaters. They can taste a dish or a raw ingredient and tell you why it works and why it doesn’t. There’s no innate talent to this—they’ve just eaten a lot of great meals. Never miss a chance to eat somewhere special because the inspiration one meal will bring you can last a very, very long time.
Tip #3: Trust your gut
If the idea of Nutella and aged cheddar makes you excited—and actually it should— combine them in a crêpe. If you long to cook pork belly in pomegranate juice, then do just that. Maybe it won’t work out, but you won’t know if you don’t try. By now, you’ve internalized so many different combinations of flavour that you might not even know where the inspiration comes from. But if it comes from within it’s certainly worth trying. And hey, who knows, you might come up with a truly unique—and delicious—dish.