It may feel like food ‘experts’ are ten a penny these days, with food influencers, instagram cooks and tv chefs all trying to get a piece of the pie.
However, as any chef would tell you, there is a big difference between following a recipe and crafting one from first principles. This skill can often elude seasoned professionals, and takes years of tasting, experimenting and exploring before a chef can take their inspiration and transform it into a dish.
We’ve spoken to our team of chefs and put together a guide below which offers their simple framework that will allow you to go from following a recipe to developing your own. So grab a pencil, your favourite notebook and let's get creating.
Initial Ideas & Inspirations
Often the most challenging aspect of creating a dish isn’t the execution - it’s finding that initial spark of inspiration.
This can come from anywhere. It might come from a picture you’ve seen online where you liked the plating. It might be a certain flavour you can’t get enough of. Or even an ingredient you came across that you want to experiment with.
As a recipe-creating novice, it’s essential to open yourself up to inspiration. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go out trawling markets, reading books and attending tasting menus (although it might help!)
Instead, all you have to do is remind yourself to pay attention to your senses as you go about your daily life. If something catches your attention, note it down - not every idea will be a winner, but you will undoubtedly find some gems in there.
Additionally, your memories hold a wealth of inspiration that can be tapped into, and your taste, smell, sight, touch and (even) hearing can remind you of a combination that you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of, an aroma that fills you with comfort, or a texture you want to replicate.
At this early stage, start to list these ideas in your notebook - jot down ingredients, flavour combinations and recipes you’ve come across already for the next stage of the development process.
A great way to do this is in the form of a mind map - this can help you track and structure your recipe as your idea begins to take shape.
Now, this may sound formal but all recipes are created for a purpose beyond just tasting good. Whether it’s a project given to a test kitchen’s development team by a restaurant chain, or your avid home cook creating something special for a loved one.
When creating your own recipe, begin to think about the reason for making it. Is it to take inspiration from the local seasonal ingredients available to you, to invoke memories of a holiday to another country, or are you trying to create something that looks like a plate of food from a Michelin starred restaurant?
Begin to think deeply about why you are creating a recipe, this will not only make the process more enjoyable but it will also give your dish a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Beyond just tasting good, your recipe will also mean something to you.
Once you have chosen an initial inspiration to pursue, and considered what you want to say with your dish - next you need to begin researching your recipe further.
Firstly, use research as a means to justify your idea. This will help you understand the key components of what will make your recipe great. You’ll discover any issues people have run into in the past (especially if your recipe is a technical one).
For instance if you want to use a specific technique to really make an ingredient sing, research will help you understand the properties it has, and whether or not each technique is the best course of action.
You will also start to uncover certain ingredients you need to use and where to buy them - this can be particularly useful if you're using a hard to find or specialist ingredient. It will also introduce you to new ideas that will help you further develop your dish.
Lastly, it will help you refine your idea. As your research material mounts, you’ll begin to strip away any elements you don’t like or that don’t work together in your recipe, as well as cement the key elements that do work!
With your notebook in front of you, you should have a few pages of initial ideas and concepts down and a clear idea for a brief to set yourself - for example creating a recipe that reminds you of the end of summer. Then, you should have conducted some research to justify your idea.
Now, we need to start to build our recipe and the best place to start is the main ingredient. When looking at the main ingredient there are some key elements we need to consider - presentation, preparation, cooking method and flavour.
On a clean page in a notebook, begin to sketch what the main ingredient will look like and then from there start to label and detail any relevant information - shade where it’s going to be pan-seared, jot down your cooking techniques and visibly show any seasonings that have gone into the preparation of the component.
This is essential, as it will allow us to take the next step and start to build out from the main ingredient cohesively. Understanding what natural flavours, textures and aromas your ingredient possesses means you can select components that complement the ingredient, and one another.
From your main ingredient let’s build-out. Using your inspiration and research, start to pull together the other elements of the recipe, this will be your sauces, garnishes and tributary elements.
With each element you bring, remember to list out the ingredients you’ll need to make it, cooking techniques and also detail any visual elements such as charring, caramelisation or the style in which something is cut.
This is the part of the recipe development process where you need to imagine the tastes of the recipe and as it says above, make sure the flavours complement each other along with the textures and colours.
With the lists beside your sketch, you can now begin to build your shopping list.
By now you should have an idea of how your recipe is going to be plated - you will have sketched a rough drawing into a book where you have listed the flavours, cooking techniques and key elements of your recipe, as well as a shopping list!
Now, from this initial sketch, take a clean page and draw in as much detail as possible what you visualise the plating to be - this will be your guide when you come to cook it, so take your time.
Alongside the little details like where the sauce will fall, or where the garnishes will sit, simply name the key elements of the recipe.
Once you have drawn your dish in sufficient detail, you are now ready to head to the shops with your ingredients list in hand.
This step by step guide has hopefully provided you with the framework to start creating your own recipes. For the culinary novice, lean heavily on what’s been created before and take inspiration from anywhere you can.
If you’re a culinary pro, try building from scratch, from a single ingredient or memory you have and take that concept all the way through to a fully realised recipe.
Creating a recipe can be daunting, to begin with, but something that is truly rewarding. If you wish to learn more about creating recipes, sign up to Rassa, the world's first virtual test kitchen where you’ll learn to master the process of developing your own recipes alongside expert chefs.