Cooking Technique · Uncategorized

Imitation Isn’t the Sincerest Form of Flattery–It’s the Best Way to Learn Technique

(A reprint from my original The Gourmandista blog–originally posted on May 4, 2006).

When art students learn technique, they are required to imitate the great masters. It is in the process of imitating the master that the young artist becomes more experienced and learns to develop his or her own techniques while establishing a firm artistic foundation. Indeed, during our last trip to Paris, hubby and I saw art students copying masterful paintings in the Louvre. Their paintings looked exactly like the originals and their technique had obviously been perfected. So too, do good cooks copy the dishes of masters or at least of good restaurants. It is through imitating those who are good at what we want to be able to do that we can learn how to do new things well and get ideas for improving the things we already do well, including but not limited to: plating, food combinations, the importance of combining textures, food color combinations, service techniques, creating ambiance, unusual food combinations, table settings, napkin folding, the balance of dominant and recessive flavoring, etc.

Many times, it’s through another’s success at creativity that I get inspired to be bolder and more creative in my own food combinations and experiments. One of my favorite things to do is to go to a restaurant, eat a great meal or dish, and then recreate the dish or meal at home. When I’m served a great dish, I eat it more slowly and try to distinguish each individual flavor comprising the completed dish. Once I figure out what is in the dish, I can go home and experiment with different techniques and recipes. I especially like to recreate dishes that creatively combine different foods and spices. And, even when my dish at home does not come out quite like the one I ate at the restaurant, sometimes I end up creating new dishes, or if it’s a failure, I end up learning from the mistake. Either way, I end up adding new dishes, methods, and techniques to my repertoire and continuing my cooking education.

The other night for dinner when I got home I decided not to prepare the salmon and decided instead to make omelets. I remembered a great omelet I had in San Francisco a few years ago while on a business trip at a small café off of Nob Hill. I told hubby that I would make him an omelet but that he needed to allow me to add anything I wanted to it. It’s amazing how even after three years of marriage and one year of dating, all the while eating my cooking, hubby still doubts me when I combine foods he’s not used to having combined. I imitated the Nob Hill dish and made a delicious brie and apple omelet, one even the doubting Thomas could not deny.

The omelet was easy. I just sautéed peeled, thinly sliced apples in butter until soft. Then added the apples to a beaten egg, milk, salt and pepper mixture in the pan. And just before turning the omelet when done cooking, I add slices of brie, folded the omelet, pressed down to help melt the brie and VOILÀ, the omelet was complete. It brought back memories of riding the trolley cart up and down the Hill, walking along the wharf, photographing the seals, eating chocolate at Ghirardelli, and just taking in the ambiance of a great city.