I'm a newly promoted sous chef, I can cook, but I'm not creative, HELP!

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by fizzle, Jan 25, 2019.

  1. fizzle


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    5+ years
    I'm 37 years old, I worked in kitchens and FOH since 15 years old. I loved it. Then I realized there's good money in software development and I'm good at that too, cut to 4 years ago, I'm back in a restaurant, and I get the bug again, I just love cooking. I figure out through some soul searching, this is my passion, this is what I'm gonna do with my life.

    Now, here's my problem, when I realized that this is my calling, I worked in a shit kitchen, all but 2-3 cooks were complete shit, so I got outta there, got hired 4 months ago at a decent place, and since then I'm on a fast track to being sous at this joint, just because I can cook and I can lead.

    Now, the problem, coming up with daily features. That's why I'm here, in this "almost sous" position I'm in right now, I'm expected to come up with SOME features, and I have, but now I'm out of ideas, because I never went to culinary school, I don't really understand flavor profiles, all these things my executive chef was working with me on, then he got fired.

    SO! I come here asking for advice in creating a chefs feature nightly. My place is a high end steak and seafood house, all our steak is 30 day dry aged prime, we also have lobster tails, a handful of chicken pasta, shrimp pasta, etc etc. I can order anything I want for a chefs feature, I just don't even know where to start.

    Just looking for ideas here, not recipes. Presentation also is my main concern, again I can cook anything, but I'm not creative enough to make it LOOK as amazing as it tastes....
    phaedrus likes this.
  2. sgsvirgil


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    Retired Owner/Operator
    Hi and welcome to CT. :)

    Here are some suggestions. Not many chicken suggestions because they've all been done to death.

    Lobster bisque/Seafood bisque
    Zuppa Di Pesce (Fish soup)
    Coquilles St. Jaques
    Fra Diavalo with or without seafood
    Balsamic reduction for the steaks
    Wine reduction for the steaks
    Homemade seafood ravioli
    Cajun seafood
    Caribbean style seafood
    Coconut shrimp
    Lime shrimp with avocado puree
    Orange shrimp with avocado puree
    Small Peppers stuffed with shrimp/seafood
    Thin rolled (pounded) stuffed chicken breast (you figure out what to stuff it with)

    I hope this helps gets your wheels turning. Good luck. :)
  3. chefbillyb


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    Professional Chef
    IMHO, I have to ask why a Chef special is necessary. The menu is high end steaks and seafood. You already have chicken and shell fish pasta along with all the other seafood that's offered on the menu. I would ask how many of these Chef specials would sell. In most restaurants a Chef would move the slower seafood items and make them into a special.
    The reason your customer picked your restaurant is to have a steak or seafood dish. I figure the chicken is on the menu for the non seafood eaters or people who don't want a big steak. I guess my question would be "Why" is a special needed. My feeling the answer is because the menu gets to be old hat. You know " Same ol' Same ol' thing. The menu may be old hat to the cooks but it's not to the customer.
    The upscale steak houses I go to have a special steak of the night. I remember one being a Bone in Filet Mignon. The waiter went on for a few minutes on how the steak will be broiling and roasting the bone marrow to enhance the flavor of the steak. I looked at my Son and said, Thats going to be a trick with a rare steak.....Just Sayin'
  4. chefwriter


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    Professional Cook
    Check out some of the modern professional chef cookbooks to get ideas about presentations. Charlie Trotters books, especially his ideas on vegetable cookery, French Laundry, anything with color photos.
    Many familiar things can be made to look new by presenting them in different ways. Take a look at the ingredients you use now and imagine them served in different ways-shredded, pureed, fried, steamed, as a sauce, as a custard, as a topping or a base, dried to a powder, using a mold. Look at All of the ingredients when doing this.
    Write down any ideas that come to you. Do the same with other ingredients. See what interesting combinations you can come up with.
    Talk to your suppliers about what they have that you haven't ordered. Some lobster mushrooms could be a nice variation on traditional surf and turf. Cornish hen, squab or quail or pheasant instead of chicken. If you see something in a cookbook that interests you, ask your supplier about getting it. If they can't or won't, find someone who will. THis is where the internet can really help.
    Talk to a butcher about various cuts of meat you aren't serving but could use as a special. Allow for everything from nose to tail.
    I know a restaurant that serves a dry aged steak with onion rings, fingerling potatoes, except they sort out the onion slices by size and then present them pyramid shape largest to smallest. Simple enough but nice.
    Smoke something to use as a main dish or as a garnish.
    How much of the pasta is hand made? You can use ingredients on hand to make fresh ravioli or agnolotti or roll out the sheets and cut for pappardelle or triangles with a nice braised shank or chuck. You only have to make enough for one night as a special.
    Flavor profiles, in my humble opinion, is nothing more than a fancy phrase for what tastes good. Tomatoes and fresh basil, peanut butter and jelly, eggs and bacon, etc. etc. So when you create a special, you think about how you want it to taste and how you are going to get there. Your idea is the "flavor profile" and any thing you consider adding either improves the profile or not. For example, you make fresh vanilla ice cream. Nice. With toasted almonds and ganache, Better. Would candied orange peel work with that "Flavor Profile"?
    Valentines' Day is coming up. So a seafood platter for two. Steak for two. Steak and seafood for two.
    Raw oysters with six sauces. Mixed grill with sweetbreads or other unusual additions. Ribs, short ribs, beef ribs,
    Pates and Terrines from what you have on hand.
    Rolled, stuffed veal breast. Rolled stuffed anything else. Stuffed pork chop. Meatloaf made with chicken, garnished on the interior like pate but served hot as entree. Octopus stew.
    Steak Tartar, Ceviche, braciole, Upscale Hungarian goulash, haggis?
    I should add that when running specials, be sure to find out why the customers did or didn't like a special. Often it isn't the product itself but something else. Too chewy, unfamiliar, too familiar, wrong sauce, etc. So you can present it another time in a different way.
    I've made myself hungry now. Back later.
    Mischief likes this.
  5. chefwriter


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    Professional Cook
    sorry, double post.
  6. someday


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    Professional Chef
    Neither Charlie Trotter or The French Laundry are "modern" cookbooks. Not to say they have no value, or aren't great/fantastic books...but definitely not modern. TFL book is pushing 20 years. I think most of CT's books are even older.

    If you're looking for ideas on vegetable cookery, I prefer Alain Passard's book and also On Vegetables by Jeremy Fox and 6 Seasons by Joshua McFadden. As far as I'm concerned, Trotter was a garbage human and doesn't deserve the status he achieved and seems to maintain in some chef circles. But I digress...

    (The rest of your post is great advice I just had to stick my $.02 in about the first sentence)

    The problem, as I see it OP, is that you don't have enough experience to be a sous chef. Your hard work and ability to follow directions and produce plates has landed you on the fast track (which is good in a lot of ways) but you skipped a large portion of your career working for a number of different chef's and being exposed to different ideas/ingredients/plating, etc.

    I'm also slightly confused at how cooking can be your "passion" and yet the part that drives most chefs (i.e. the creative outlet of designing menus, etc) is where the passion comes in. Unless you are passionate about grinding on the line every day. I understand the adrenaline rush and the thrill of service, and the pleasure we can take from putting perfect plates in the window (I love all that too) but I don't know if I would categorize it as "passion." Maybe I'm just being pedantic...sorry for that. Just struck me as a bit of an odd choice of words.

    I recommend a book called "The Flavor Bible" which lists ingredients and then other ingredients which pair well with them. This is a good tool for when you have a starting point or an incomplete idea and can help fill in the gaps with some complimentary flavors.

    There is a newer book called The Flavor Matrix which does a similar thing but it is a little more scientific that is really good as well.

    Make a list of restaurants and chef's you admire, follow them on Instagram. I'm not suggesting copying dishes wholesale but it's a great tool to learn about presentation, to learn about ingredients you've never seen before.

    There is a TON of media out there about cooking and cheffing. Netflix has Mind of a Chef, Chef's Table, Salt/Fat/Acid/Heat...and tons more.

    Keep a notebook and write all your ideas down. Write down the specials that you do...and if they were successful or not. What would you change, what did you like, what didn't work...

    Unfortunately there is no substitute for experience. What do you expect to know after only working in a "good" kitchen for 4 months? You haven't even run through all the seasons yet.

    I don't think you have a lack of creativity I think you just have a limited well from which to draw from. The more ideas/recipes/presentations/ingredients/techniques you have in your well the easier and more fun you'll have putting them together in different ways.
    Mischief and pete like this.
  7. JustCharlie


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    LCB, Paris 1984 Le Chantecler, Le Petit Nice, Les Apotres de Pigalle, Restaurant Le Cinq, Boutary, M
    What books do you have in your cooking library? What are you making in your home kitchen that stretches your skills? Recipes abound on the internet. If it's an immediate matter of keeping your employment, look there for inspiration, there's no need to lose your job over trying to come up with something 'original.' As somebody else said, your well is too shallow at the moment to draw from, and besides that a lot of people who believe they've created an original dish have not.

    Unless you're working in a Michelin-starred shop, or something very close, then long-term you need to be educating yourself and working hard in your own kitchen on your off days. If you ever find your way to a top-shelf kitchen you will be expected to know French technique. Start working on that. Learn the terminology, learn the classical dishes and sauces. It'll make you a better cook, I promise.
    Mischief likes this.
  8. panini


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    Chef, your ready for this job as long as you remain confident that you accomplish your given task.
    Culinary school or cook books will not result in you being creative.
    As for your original question, I would present this to your regular customers. They have chosen to dine with you
    for some reason. Request their wishes, wants, or needs.
    You can probably use your tech skills to generate some type of feedback program. Identify some similar requests
    and make some personal contact. Make one customer feel happy/important they will tell 8-10 people. Piss of a
    customer, and they will tell 16-18 people.
    It's a lot easier to research a requested product than envision a fictitious customer and their wishes.
    Just my opinion.
  9. Mischief


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    Executive Chef
    A good point for building creative flavor profiles is to list things you know go well together. I was listening to the first episode of the Andrew Talks to Chef's podcast just the other day and he was discussing this exact same thing. The example he used was peanut butter and jelly. Next, list what each ingredient brings to the table flavorwise. Peanut butter is obviously nutty and a bit salty. Jelly is sweet and fruity. Now list ingredients that have the same qualities and think of ways to pair them. Don't be afraid to play with the textures too, say a black sesame seed brittle and strawberry foam. Taking something you know is popular and switching up ingredients in a unique way can be a good way of coming up with specials that will likely go over well.