TL;DR – Basically as the title says. Here is an overview to the recipe development process brought together by our experiments and research. For a more detailed walkthrough along with many other goodies check out our book focused on the recipe development process.
The Best of Recipe Development
- Modernizing Indian Cuisine
- Inspiration from Leftovers
- Yolking Around
- Inspiration from Movies
- Perfecting your Recipe
- Seasonal Ingredients
- Inspiration from your Audience
Step 1: Inspiration
Define the inspiration. What are you creating or attempting to create? It is very important to set a vision. In all of our experiments, we made the source of our inspiration very clear. Are you looking to nature for inspiration? Are you developing another dish for your restaurant? Are you trying to challenge yourself to use specific ingredients?
This a good stage to also define your restrictions. Are you only allowed to use certain ingredients? Is there a theme to your dish?
Analogy = As an architect, I want to create a house, not an apartment or business building.
Step 2: Research
Before you start on creating the dish, it is important to gather knowledge about either the ingredients, cuisine, techniques, etc. A way most people will approach this is by using the internet. However, we have found that speaking to experts (e.g. the butcher when learning about meat) or books can be much better resources. Not only will the content be more reliable, but you will spend less time searching and more time learning.
Sometimes the research will also involved buying ingredients and tasting them or playing around with them very early on in the process. Especially if you are deriving inspiration from your ingredients.
Check out our list of Resources for some good starting points. Especially those cookbooks. I (West coast) own all of them.
Analogy = I need to learn about houses, materials, and construction techniques. I can use the interweb, but maybe talking to construction experts who have done something similar or reading established material is a better place to start.
Step 3: Development
This is the step where you start to tie your research and inspiration to start driving towards a concept. You will be exploring ideas, experimenting with preparations, and by using some of the models below can start to make way towards your first draft concept.
A important step in this stage is realizing if your approach is going to be top-down or bottom up (an example of both is in this post).
A bottom-up approach consists of a method of where the underlying framework is already defined (the ingredients, dish, cuisine, etc.) If I was to take a bottom-up approach I could follow a framework similar to how we approached Eggs Benedicto-San where we were adapting a dish. Or for example, pretend I am opening a Japanese restaurant and I want to adapt a drink to tailor it to my restaurant.
Here is an example if you are adapting a dish.
First, define the individual components such as below:
Dish X –
- Base or Stock
Then, define which components are the most important to create a “baseline” dish which will the allow you to determine which components are flexible or can be changed in your adaptation.
Dish X –
- Topping – anything crunchy
- Sauce – want to stick to a Hollandaise
- Protein – open to change
Another example of a bottom-up approach is when we used seasonal ingredients to create a dish.
In this case, we actually wrote down the the different ingredients on post-it notes to play around with combinations and ideas.
A popular technique, in various forms above, is called flavor bouncing. A great introduction to that is here.
On the other hand, we can take a top-down approach similar to how we tackled Inspiration Through Nature for Cliffside. A top-down approach is more conceptually derived from a theme. For example, in “Cliffside”, I derived my inspiration from nature.
An example of a top-down approach is when our inspiration was the audience.
In this experiment, since the audience was a focal element, we created a model to help us:
- Base – setting the stage for their preferences based on knowledge or understanding
- Margins – defining to what extent we can change but still be safe with this audience
Defining associations is another great way to develop a top-down approach.
This is really simple. Take the idea (such as “Campfire”) and start to jot down everything that you association with that idea. Then take those associations and try to correlate them to food through flavors, ingredients, or preparations.
This stage will often mix into Step 4, but is a really important stage for creativity of your dish. Take the time to play with ideas before moving on.
Analogy = I have the knowledge, let’s start putting it together.
Step 4: Concept Draft
Entering Step 4, you have a rough idea of a concept and it is time to start getting towards a final product.
This step consists of three parts:
Visualize what the end result will be. Draw a picture. Think about your plating. Make sure all your ingredients have been incorporated. It is okay if you have multiple versions at this point.
The flavor profile and the mock-up go hand in hand to help you start imagining the final product. The mock up is a visual tool, while the flavor profile will help with the rest of the senses. Here is a post we did on Basic taste and Flavor principles.
Taste – What is perceived by the taste buds (i.e. salty, umami)
Aroma – What is perceived by the nose (i.e. pungency)
Mouthfeel – What is perceived by the rest of the mouth (i.e. texture, temperature)
X-factor – What is perceived by other senses and body (i.e. memory, emotional)
Write down a draft recipe so you have a bearing when you start experimenting. Doing the flavor profile and mock-up before doing the draft will help to make sure you are not missing out on anything.
The draft does not have to be an exact science at this point but make sure to list out some of the vital parts and steps that would have come from your research (e.g. cooking times for meat). Have a list of all the ingredients you need so it will be easier when shopping and setting up (mise en place).
Analogy = I am going to put together a blue print of my house.
Step 5: Testing or figuring out what works
It’s time to jump in. The testing step is quite open but here is what you will be doing:
- Give a first shot at creating your concept
- Experimenting with key steps to get proper outcome
- Working out the kinks in your draft concept
- Play with presentation
- Experiment with new ways of using your ingredients
You will often find that during this stage you will start making change to your draft concept and that is exactly what this stage is for. You don’t want to go from draft concept to execution without playing around with the recipes first. Other key parts:
- During this stage, don’t use the the good ingredients! For example, in this post I used imitation crab and non-grade sushi while experimenting.
- Taste. Taste. Taste. Have a spoon at the ready to constantly taste at EVERY step of the process.
- Document. Make sure to write down what is working and what isn’t. Document you experiences even if you don’t use it for this recipe as it might be useful for another.
At the end of this process you will have a refined draft concept.
Analogy = Let’s build a scale model and start testing some of the integral parts of the house.
Step 6: Execution
Create the dish. Hopefully your draft concept holds up during the execution, but if it doesn’t continue to refine the draft during the execution so that you end with a final recipe.
Nail the plating. Take a picture for record and documentation.
At the end of this process you want to have your final recipe and an image of the final creation!
Analogy = Time to build our house!
Step 7: Post-game Analysis
You might be tempted to start eating, but take a moment and analyze your execution before you immerse your senses into your creation:
- What are some steps that can be improved on?
- How did you plating come out?
And then as you start eating, make sure you are still documenting:
- How does it taste?
- Does the plating hold-up or did it become a mush pile?
- What elements of the dish work?
- Are all the ingredients shining?
- Was there enough food or was it too large of a portion?
And then lastly, get a second opinion. Some people will be overcritical of themselves while others will not be critical enough. Get a second opinion from someone you trust.
Analogy = I have to figure out if it worked and if the house will hold up so that it can be replicated by others. Was this how I wanted to house to look and feel? What can be improved upon?
You might find that you will have to revise steps 5-7 after this stage of analysis get get a better refined 2.0 version of your dish.