Creativity cannot be controlled or regulated. I find myself bombarded by ideas, most of the time at night, but I could be on a plane, or driving, or speaking to a friend. Ideas appear to me like flashes.
I was in Rome last year, eating linguine carbonara at a trattoria. That same night, it occurred to me that I should devise a carbonara dish for Le Bernardin, paired with caviar. The challenge was to marry two very rich elements—egg and cheese—with bacon and caviar, and also to make it a dish that measured up to the restaurant's luxurious aesthetic. And so I began the process of creating a new dish.
I’m sure that every chef in the world has his own way of creating a new dish. If I travel to a country or to a restaurant and I enjoy my experience, I'll keep that experience in the back of my head, sometimes to be retrieved years later. I am constantly writing down little ideas or combinations of flavors on scraps of paper. Then, when I have too many scraps lying around, I transfer them to one page and begin to work through them.
For me, during the day, it's very difficult to be creative, because I’m in the kitchen, where I'm much more active, and experiencing constant interruptions. Late at night, at home, I can create a very relaxed environment for myself, kind of isolated from everything else. Then it becomes almost like a meditation. However, I always have a specific goal in mind when I begin my work. For example, in creating the carbonara dish, the flavor must be my main focus, and everything created for this dish will have the goal of elevating the flavor to the best of my abilities. At this point in the process, I don’t care about presentation or nutrition, just creating the greatest-tasting preparation.
At home, I keep in front of me the list of my ideas and sometimes a few cookbooks, to help me visualize ingredients or connect with the right season. I sometimes take ideas from the beginning of the list and mix them with the end of the list and sometimes it leads to a completely new idea. Then I come back to the restaurant and, with the sous chefs, we work on bringing alive what I created in my head.
It always takes us a while to decide whether to put a dish on the menu or eliminate it—in fact it ends up being a very long process. Ultimately, out of 100 ideas, fewer than 10 of them will end up on the menu at Le Bernardin.
In the end, the carbonara became a tiny pillow showcasing and enhancing the qualities of golden osetra caviar. We started with a very rustic traditional recipe, and modified it until it matched what our customers expect, and what I expect of myself.
G Polyhronopoulos — scottsdale arizona — February 23, 2007 11:11am ET
Glenn S Lucash — February 24, 2007 12:53pm ET
Julien — February 25, 2007 1:37pm ET
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