As a professional chef I have a lot to consider when designing a new recipe. Unfortunately flavor isnt the only real priority I have. I need to factor in marketability, profitability, ease of execution and so on, but as a home cook these are concepts you dont have to focus on, you really only need to worry about flavor, but for many aspiring culinarians this is a very difficult task.
Its easy to replicate someone else’s recipe, with the proper equipment and the ability to read a properly written recipe anyone can make good food, but creating your own recipes or even just adjusting, tweaking, and personalizing an already established one can be difficult for a lot of men, but chances are you use the same technique I do for flavor, just for different purposes.
The term I use for it Mental Sandboxing. Sandboxing is a computer programming term that is used to describe developing code in a safe environment where the changes you make have no real repercussions. Now the most common use for almost everyone, that I can think of, is solving a decent long math problem. Something like 2+(8*10)*(22/11) Now if you aren’t a mathematician you would probably have to think about that for a second, and you’ll solve obvious parts first, putting the entire thing together step-by-step until you have a complete answer. The sames goes if you’re in any kind of design field, you’ll visualize the entire project in you mind before you begin putting pen to paper, using the vast computational ability of your brain as the aforementioned “sandbox”.
What a lot of people miss is that this applies exactly the same way to flavors as it does say, architecture. Lets break down something we’re almost all going to be familiar with, Pico de Gallo. Now we’re going to “sandbox” this backwards, starting from a known recipe, but the idea of breaking down the flavors and “tasting” them in your head works exactly same if you’re trying to come up with something new.
Lets look at the ingredients:
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Now start with the tomato, you know it has an a slightly acidic and, well, tomatoey flavor, you’re aware of what it tastes like you can get your head around that. Now move to the onion, you know onion is quite pungent, but not necessarily the strongest flavor, its a little acrid, and again its so rudimentary the only real way to describe it is to say its oniony. Now try to imagine what they’d taste like together. You can get an idea, for most its going to be weird to “taste” ideas but your brain is capable of it. Now think about the jalapeno, you know it has a somewhat green flavor, coupled with a sharp but fresh spiciness and cilantro has that very powerful almost antiseptic leafy green flavor.
Now put those four together, you have that very basic tomato and onion concept, add in the sharp spice of the jalapeno and the unique flavor of the cilantro. Now you’ve probably had pico de gallo before so you’re brain is going to default to that, which is good for this exercise. Now imagine if there was a whole fist full of cilantro in there, not just a few sprigs. Can you “feel” how the cilantro would begin to overpower the recipe? Can you get an idea of how the onion, tomato, and even the jalapeno would begin to get lost in all that, resulting in a not-so-pleasant Pico?
Every time you go to cook try this. Look at a recipe you plan to make and try engineer it in your head before hand. Use it to get an idea of what you’re making, how it should taste, look, and even feel when its finished. This skill, while in general quite easy for most men to perform, is one that most of you probably have never applied to food, but its crucial if you wish to be anything more then just a recipe robot, cooking the recipes others have come up with.