simple-steps-to-take-a-basic-recipe-to-a-WOW-recipe |

Teach a Person to Fish.

The old saying “give a person a fish and they eat for a day; teach a person to fish and they can eat forever" has a corollary in the food world: “teach a person a recipe and they can make one dish; teach a person a basic recipe and to do a little innovative thinking and they can cook hundreds of dishes.” The concept of the basic recipe is a powerful one providing a blank canvas from which to develop something new.  When brought together with solid innovation techniques, the basic recipe becomes even more powerful because the potential for new dishes becomes large.

The never-ending job of the recipe developer is to consistently whip up something new in the kitchen creating “WOW“ moments (my formula: Basic Recipe + Innovative Thinking = WOW) for audiences and clients alike. The use of innovation tools can help recipe developers be more consistent and successful doing this. With a little practice, these tools will become just as important as pots and pans.

Lets start with a basic recipe.

A Basic Recipe – The Power of the Vague.

So just what is a basic recipe? The idea of a basic recipe isn’t really a new idea.  As others have described previously, it is simply the ratio of ingredients in a dish – 1 part X, 2 parts Y, etc.  In many cases it may be quite vague: vinaigrette – 1 part acid, 2 parts oil.  These are recipes in their simplest form giving a general ratio from which to start and simple instructions on how to create the dish.  They are a great starting point for creating something new.  By replacing ingredients with broad descriptors in any good recipe you can create a basic recipe.

Take an even simpler basic recipe example. The graphic depicts a basic recipe for a Knickerbocker Glory – a little known, layered dessert from Britain. You may or may not have heard of it but, as you can see, there could be hundreds of different ways new Knickerbocker Glories could be created.

the basice knickerbocker glory recipe

The Innovation Process.

Process?  Sounds boring!  Sure, it might not be the sexiest thing, but it works.  Make no mistake; innovation is a process, not to be confused with creativity or invention.  Here are the steps of innovation.

Decide What You Want To Do

Get Inspired

Experiment Until WOW!


State Your Purpose.


Stimulate with New Facts.


Formulate Themes or Opportunity Areas.


Get Your Ideas on Paper.


Bring Your Ideas to Life So They Can Be Experienced.


Iterate and perfect what you have made.

Let’s get innovating!

State The Purpose – Be Specific.

To create a Knickerbocker Glory dessert that pays homage to Canada

The Stimulus.

New information (sometimes called stimulus or inspiration) is the foundation for innovation and, thankfully, it is everywhere.  It can come from all variety of places.  Even information that we do not think is related to food can often be used to innovate.  Using new facts helps make new connections that open up new possibilities and never-thought-of ideas. Without new information, innovation cannot happen. Of course, if the recipe development is being done for a client, they may have the needed stimulus.  This includes things like consumer information and flavor trend data.

Here are some facts about Canada that will help create some themes from which to innovate to create our new Knickerbocker Glory dessert.

Facts about Canada.

Canada holds the record for the most gold medals ever won at the Winter Olympics

Winnie the Pooh was written by a Canadian

Montreal Is often called the City of Saints

The Blackberry Smartphone was developed in Ontario

80% of all alcohol consumed in Canada is in the form of beer

77% of the world’s maple syrup comes from Canada

Macaroni and cheese is the most purchased item in the grocery

Canada has more donuts shops per capita then anywhere else

Basketball was invented by a Canadian

Canada is the world’s largest producer of blueberry blossom honey

The coffee drink Double Double is very popular

Sweet Summer Corn is a favorite in Canada

Ice Hockey is a popular sport in Canada

Nanaimo Bars are a legendary dessert in Canada

French is spoken in one part of Canada and English in another

RELATED:  Our Top Fruit and Veggie Trends Coming Your Way

Formulating Themes and Opportunity Areas.

We could innovate based on individual facts, but it helps to think more broadly. This not only helps ensure a greater number of ideas, but also helps inspire bigger ideas. Consider formulating themes to be like mis en place for information. In practice, we list the facts under each theme to get an idea of how the opportunity area was created

Here are the themes created from the above facts.

Canadian Love of Sport The Best Things From Canada Canadian Desserts

Ideas, Ideas, Ideas.

Now start getting ideas on paper. Using the themes and facts, ideas are written down, clearly describing what we wish to create.  We want enough detail so when it comes time to bring the idea to life, all the information is there.  Below are three ideas with the layers of the Knickerbocker Glory described.

Canadian Love of Sport

The Best Things From Canada

Canadian Desserts

The Ice Hockey

(Layers from Top to Bottom)

Edible Gold Leaf

Maple Syrup Whipped Cream

Blueberry Coulis

Light Beer Granita

May West Cakes

Blueberry Coulis

Maple Whipped Cream

Oh Canadian Food

(Layers from Top to Bottom)

Fried Macaroni Noodles with powdered Sugar

Honey Whipped Cream

Blueberry and Sweet Corn Ice Cream

Maple Syrup Angel Food Cake

Fried Macaroni Noodles

Honey Whipped Cream

The Nanaimo Bar - Redo

(Layers from Top to Bottom)

Chopped Coconut/Pecans

Chocolate Whipped Cream

Graham Cracker Crumbs

Vanilla Custard Ice Cream

Brown Sugar Cake

Chocolate Syrup

Chopped Coconut/Pecans

Many more ideas could have been created under these themes.  In fact, other people could have been invited to be part of an innovation session to react to the facts and themes and create new ideas.  The three Knickerbocker Glory ideas described above say Canada in very different ways. We need to use our own criteria to decide which is best.

Bring Ideas To Life and Iterate.

The three ideas above are just that, only ideas.  An essential part of innovation is bringing ideas to life.  It is now a matter of getting in the kitchen, taking our basic recipes and applying our innovative ideas to them.  Bringing them to life and perfecting them until a great Canadian WOW moment is made completes the process.

In Summary:

  1. Basic Recipe + Innovative Thinking = WOW!
  2. Be clear in your purpose, find new facts and stimulus to help create new connections and new opportunity areas.
  3. Get your ideas on paper. Seek feedback.
  4. Create the best ideas to be experienced first hand.
  5. Iterate and perfect your innovation until WOW.

Got questions? Send them to


Matthew Robinson is the author of Knickerbocker Glory: A Chef’s Guide to Innovation in the Kitchen and Beyond (with contributions from chef, recipe developer and cookbook author Andrea Lynn, on sale 9/1/13). He has spent 17 years in the food industry as a scientist, spokesperson, and product developer. He is the founder of exCLAIM International, a nutrition science and claims strategy consultancy and creator of, an up-and-coming destination for information regarding innovation in the culinary arts. Matthew has an M.S. from The University of Georgia in Nutrition Science and is a graduate of the professional culinary program at The French Culinary Institute in New York City. He resides in Amsterdam.


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This is quite a different way from the “typical food blogger way” of recipe development. I find we all end up in a rut of just swapping ingredients, like apples for pears (please, no offense to anybody because I’m as much guilty as the rest!!!!): I feel like I need to mull this one over some more, lol! I’m torn between the “Oh Canadian food” with the fried noodles for crunch (genius!) and the Nanaimo bar redo because I love Nanaimo bars and I like the idea of transforming the bar into a parfait of sorts!

Matthew Robinson

Hi Jan! I agree with you that this is a very different way to view recipe development. Without new perspectives and new stimulus I think it is difficult to be innovative. Although just swapping ingredients can lead to great things this new way to do recipe development helps bring out opportunities to be a bit more disruptive. It helps create what I call WOW moments which can happen through out the whole process. I hope you enjoyed the article and I hope it help you and the other readers create tons of WOW moments! After you mull it a bit more I am happy to continue the conversation – Best Regards, Matthew

Sarah Reynolds

I have a big sweet tooth so definitely Canadian desserts, the Nanaimo Bar Redo. Plus I live on Vancouver Island so it’s practically calling my name.


I’d have to go with the Ice Hockey. Maple Syrup Whipped Cream and Blueberry Coulis would be awesome together!

Laureen Fox

I’m torn between The Ice Hockey and The Naniamo Bar – Redo. If I had to pick just one then I guess I’d be into revamping The Nanaimo Bar.

Melanie Deland

I am a die-hard Canadian -. It has to be the Best Things from Canada. I often struggle with how to freshen up and reinvent recipes I come across, especially those found in the old cookbooks, while still respecting the original author and ideas. This book sounds like it would be incredibly helpful

Kimberley Mulla

Oh I love the Nanaimo bar idea! Such a cool way to look at recipes and now this really has me thinking. Also a great strategy for using new ingredients to swap for others if accommodating allergies.

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