Squash blossoms

Winter doldrums, menu malaise… It’s easy to get into a cooking rut. But it’s just as easy to get out of one, too. Especially with spring around the corner. Produce seems prettier and more inviting that basic root veggies. There’s color outside and more color in the markets.

I asked our Facebook page followers what they do when they’re feeling the need for some inspiration for new dishes, techniques, and menus. What is their inspiration? And I got a variety of options to share with you:

  • “I watch Fast Forward cooking shows,” responded Cherylanne Farley. “The Kitchn always has good ideas techniques.”
  • “The Barnes and Noble bargain cookbook area,” is member Carol Borchardt’s inspiration. “Pinterest. Old magazines because everything that is old can be made new again.”
  • “Tasting Table, Plate magazine or Pinterest are my go to’s,” said Jennifer M. Grawburg.
  • “Pinterest,” is Suzy D. Brown’s source of inspiration.

Media, of course, is a great source for food-related ideas. Social media is awash in food images and video. And you should certainly subscribe to daily newsletters that arrive in your email’s inbox from Epicurious, Serious Eats, Tasting Table, Well Done, Cooking Light, the Kitchn, ProChef SmartBrief, and MyRecipes–just to name some of the most obvious. So are the vast array of cooking shows on PBS, Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube.

Marcus Samuelsson learning how to make noodles in Las Vegas

But sometimes you need to get your head out of your computer or device and get out. A recent PBS series that puts out there just how inspirational a hometown can be is chef Marcus Samuelsson’s “No Passport Required.” His second season just concluded but you can find the episodes on demand or the PBS website. Lucky you if you’re from Boston or LA, Philadelphia or Seattle or Houston. Most cities have enclaves of different ethnic groups and watching No Passport Required should give you the itch to explore your city’s Armenian neighborhood, or Filipino or Nigerian or Italian.

Yes, I recognize the irony of suggesting a TV show to get outside. So get outside. You may think you’ve hit all the hot spots of your town but there may be other towns nearby to explore.

Learning from a kind family at next table how to add egg to a Soon Tofu dish at BCD Tofu House in L.A.’s Koreatown.

I asked a chef I know in San Diego what she does when she’s looking for inspiration. She goes on food tours of the city–in San Diego or wherever she happens to be. They take her to markets, restaurants, food stalls, and street vendors. There she can try new flavors, ask questions, and develop ideas for new dishes. I’ve done this myself in San Diego, Los Angeles’s Koreatown, San Francisco, Paris, Quebec City, Vancouver, and Montreal. It can explode your mind and lead to an exciting new approach to your menu.

If you’re not in an area where organized food tours are available, how about gathering up a few friends and day trip somewhere close by? Take a bus or train or carpool to a nearby city for a day of markets and food from another culture? Bring a notebook, take photos, and ask lots of questions of chefs and shoppers? See something you don’t recognize in a bin? Ask someone making a selection about how to use it and how to pick the best quality.

Green almonds from a Middle Eastern market in San Diego

And, if you can’t leave town and you have several different kinds of markets in your town or city, turn that into a day trip and enjoy your region’s diverse offerings. Mark Dietz told us on Facebook he swears by markets as inspiration.

What if your inspiration needs to come from a very specific practitioner? Let’s say you’re interested in taking on cooking for clients with a specific dietary need. Sure, you can turn to the Internet and Pinterest, etc. But how about reaching out to professionals–dietitians or nutritionists, for instance–who can give you some ways you can incorporate specific foods into dishes? Maybe you can have a cook date to learn techniques?

It all comes down to how eager you are to come up with novel resources that ignite that spark of change. Just getting a fresh perspective from another chef or an aisle of gorgeous spring vegetables may send you racing back to your kitchen, eager to develop a new recipe or two for clients.

What’s your inspiration when you are in a culinary rut? 

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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Caron Golden

About 

Founder of premier organization of personal chefs inspires students to follow their dreams of culinary entrepreneurship.

Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA), today was recognized by Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies as its 33rd Distinguished Guest Chef.

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