Watching food-centric television shows on an empty stomach is always such a tease. I remember being nineteen years old, sitting on an old couch in a small rental apartment, choking down some spaghetti with a simple pasta sauce (from a jar, of course), all the while thinking: ‘Why can’t I be eating that?’
Now, fast forward to almost a decade later. I still often sit on my couch, watching Food Network Canada and salivate. The only difference is that this time I actually know the culinary basics and can attempt, for better or for worse, to recreate the dishes I see on television.
When Food Network Canada decided to let me do a thirteen week blog series, coinciding with the second season of Top Chef Canada, I was excited. I was mildly confident, being an avid ‘chef’ at home. I convinced myself I could tackle anything. I soon realized, it would be a much more difficult task than I expected. Yes, massive learning curves would ensue.
If I’m attempting to recreate a dish at home, say my go-to dish from my favourite local restaurant, I always need start with the basic flavours. You have to take it in. Bite by bite. Ask yourself questions like: ‘Why do I like this dish?’, ‘Which ingredients stand out dramatically on the plate?’, ‘Are there any pronounced spices?’
One of my favourite recreations that I was assigned over the past thirteen weeks was, most definitely Trevor Bird’s Pork Rind-crusted Chicken Wings with Pretzel Beer Mayo. Aside from the Chicken Noodle Soup Terrine I was tasked to make, this was definitely my strangest kitchen experiment. Here, I watched the brief screen time where the wings were prepared, but also paid attention to the explanation and finished dish that was presented.
Here are four vital lessons I learned during my Top Chef Canada online adventure that will help any of you successfully recreate a dish in your own kitchen…
Tip #1: What matters most?
The key ingredients to any popular dish (on television or on a restaurant’s menu) are always in the title description. This is a great way to start your shopping list. If you have the essential items that a chef lists, then you’ve got a good foundation to a quality remake.
Tip #2: Don’t get overwhelmed by fancy culinary terms.
Words like Gastrique or remoulade may sound intimidating to the home cook, but a quick google search will make you realize that the multi-syllable word may actually be quite simple to execute. In my final Top Chef Canada post, I recreated a dish that included ‘pain perdu’. At first I was intimidated, but after some short research, I realized that it was, essentially, french toast. Hurdle jumped!
Tip #3: Judging a book by its cover...
As much as we like to down-play it, looks are everything. Especially when it comes to what’s on your plate. If you’re not confident in matching the flavours of a dish you’re trying to recreate, you can, at the very least, make it look like it. We eat with a fork and knife, but also with our eyes. Just make sure it’s palatable!
Tip #4: Don’t break the bank on specialty ingredients!
If you’re experimenting in your kitchen for the first time, make sure you’re not dropping a lot of cash on ingredients solely for testing. Vanilla extract in place of real vanilla bean, hangar steak instead of quality tenderloin...Save the best ingredients for the final dish, when you’re ready to serve at a dinner party that your friends will remember!
In closing, I’d just like to point out, that the most important thing I took away from my blog series for FoodNetwork.ca, is that being a chef is not an easy profession. It takes hard work, detail, precision, and a dedication that I think few people have in their careers. Taking these Top Chef Canada contestants’ dishes and recreating them in my own kitchen provided me with a new found respect for the restaurants I truly enjoy.
Sure, you can recreate all you want at home, but just know where your inspiration comes from. From the talented culinary professionals who astound us again and again, leaving our stomachs full and our palates content.
Recipe Development 101: Calling a Pot of Soup Your Own was written and photographed by food writer and columnist, Dan Clapson, based out of Calgary, Alberta. In addition to writing for Avenue Magazine and Food Network Canada, he blogs about his culinary adventures at www.dansgoodside.com. When he’s not eating, he can be found teaching university students how to cook through his non-for-profit cooking program, Start From Scratch. He likes to eat pickles out of the jar. Twitter: @dansgoodside