The truth is, we all create recipes, all the time! Whether you love to cook, or you simply cook to survive, you’ve made a recipe at some point. Think about your morning smoothie, favourite weeknight dinner, go-to braai side or special bake that you’ve tweaked to perfection over the years. You may not have written the recipe down, but it’s in your mind, ready to be called on when craving or necessity strike.
Developing recipes as a profession is essentially the same process, just followed with more structure, and undertaken in larger volumes (sometimes, for me, around 30 new recipes a month).
The first part of developing recipes is finding inspiration. Inspiration comes in all forms – a craving, an interesting new ingredient, colourful fresh produce, a restaurant meal or menu, a travel experience, a beautiful recipe book, magazine or Pinterest image and other times ideas simply pop into your head.
Often there’s no shortage of thoughts and it feels sad to exclude some, but other times ideas are really hard to come by. I’ve found a lack of creativity is a symptom of doing too much and luckily ideas usually return after a little down-time. There are ways to recharge the creative batteries when inspiration runs dry – taking a break from cooking, social media and looking at other people’s work; time in nature and eating beautiful food that someone else has lovingly prepared are things that help to reignite my creativity.
Creating an original recipe
This is the magic part! By this point I’ve narrowed down my ideas, done some research if the technique is new to me, shopped for ingredients and have a basic recipe formula and image of the final dish in my mind. The next step, essentially, is making the dish while writing down everything I do. It’s subconscious now, but throughout this process I call on my experience and professional culinary training to guide me.
When the recipe I had in mind just doesn’t work out in the kitchen?
This is sometimes a reality – a wonderful idea that just doesn’t work out in practice. Perhaps the recipe needs tweaking through a few rounds of testing, or it’s just never going to work and it’s time to abandon it. It’s important to realise this before putting too much energy into an idea that’s never going to have it. And it’s totally okay to retire a dish that is never going to be incredible.
Putting a recipe into words
This is the sciency part – writing a recipe that anyone can create in their home kitchen. The steps need to be clear, concise, follow general recipe-writing convention, be stylistically correct and technically accurate.
There’s a lot of double-checking during this process. Anytime I think I don’t need to re-check things, I remind myself of a few mistakes I made in my early recipe-writing days. One, in particular, still haunts me: a lamb curry to serve 4 people with 50g of salt. Yup. It was a simple typo that would render an otherwise delicious meal sea-saltily inedible, AND was brought to my attention by a lady who had made the dish to impress her parents-in-law. Eek.
The real magic?
I love that through sharing my knowledge, I can help cooks discover, or rediscover, the warmth and happiness home-cooked food brings. When someone makes one of my recipes and receives delighted oohs and ahhs from their loved ones – this is all the inspiration I need to keep pouring imaginativeness into the recipes I write.