I learned so much from my short time in culinary school (more on that backstory later). Shockingly, very little had to do with food! Since I already worked in the industry for several years, the food stuff wasn’t as foreign to me as it was for others. There were, however, a couple concepts that I not only still use today in my career but also find completely helpful for any home cook. They are: “How to easily create dishes out of nothing”; and “How to “sell” any dish”. I’ll explain both with this Halibut with Gooseberry Agrodolce and Millet Risotto recipe.
One of the first things I really remember learning in culinary school was how to write a menu. While this class focused specifically on how to write restaurant menus in order to sell more menu items, I find that the techniques I learned to be SO powerful even with home cooking. If we eat with our eyes first, our ears must come shortly before or after that, right? So wording your meal in a way that excites or intrigues, no matter how basic you think it is, creates an even better dining experience for your guests. Example: Your meal tonight includes a bone-in chicken breast with white rice and a salad. Instead of wording it as such (to the point but pretty bland sounding) try using exciting descriptors: Roasted airline chicken (the typical cut of bone-in chicken breast), with steamed (use the cooking technique to build an image in the diners imagination) jasmine rice, and spinach salad with red wine vinaigrette (a very basic vinaigrette but emphasizing the red wine component elevates a basic salad).
Simple enough right?? Take the example of this halibut with gooseberry agrodolce and millet risotto recipe. Sounds fancy, right? Sure, it’s definitely more elevated than boxed macaroni and cheese. However, all this dish really is is a seared piece of fish, a warm sweet and sour relish made with a unique fruit, and an heirloom grain cooked with white wine. The star, the agrodolce, is an Italian sauce (similar to the French gastrique), made from vinegar and a sweetener. The gooseberries in the sweet and sour agrodolce was a fun find during my weekly grocery trip. Which leads me to the other concept I learned in culinary school…
I am asked all the time where my recipe inspirations come from. My inspiration comes from everywhere, but one of the more common begins with a single ingredient. Sometimes it’s an ingredient I haven’t worked with before and want to experiment with. Other times it’s something seasonal I haven’t used in a while. And other times its just a pretty product that catches my eye from across the market. When I saw the tart gooseberries I knew its bright and sweet flavor was something I wanted to use. The gloomy New England weather has lead to a barrage of zesty menu items lately and these gooseberries were a great addition.
Ok so now I have the ingredient… now what? When inspiration is triggered by a single ingredient it’s best to just let that ingredient sing on its own. I knew the tart gooseberries would work well if paired with a sweeter sauce, which lead me to an agrodolce. And since I wanted the sauce to be the star, I wanted a firm but black-canvas-kind-of fish to hold up to but not overshadow the sauce. And the nuttiness of the millet was going to be a great contrasting element to sop up any leftover sauce. By focusing my attention on one aspect, the rest of the dish was able to create itself in a way.
Now I know I have many years of experience. And I know these concepts may seem out of reach for someone who may not have the confidence in the kitchen. But trust me, give them a try. Don’t worry about going big and bold at first. You dont have to create a Halibut with Gooseberry Agrodolce dish right from the beginning. Start with a sweet potato or a carrot and see where your creativity takes you. And make sure to describe that dish completely. Any amount of energy you put into a dish, no mater how simple, is worth celebrating.
Tools to help with this recipe: