Journey of a new dish

So how do you create a new dish, Eric? It’s a commonly asked question, and although the process varies each time, I’ve seen a few dishes come and go so I’d like to let you in on the journey with our latest Café Derailleur addition- Sweet potato cakeswith peanut satay, chilli, lime, smashed avocado, English spinach and coconut bacon.

To start with, I’m after something that is tasty, filling and definitely not deep fried (we are sticking to our guns here and won’t be installing a deep fryer). Flavour and texture need to go hand in hand with healthy ingredients, and if I’m going to all that trouble then best make it suitable for vegetarian or vegan customers to enjoy too.

Now you know I read and think a bit, and no, not all of my time online is spent on social media! My bookcase is a running joke in my family, as it tends to overtake any flat surface in the house. My latest read was on nuts, and I found…a recipe. It looked good and tasted great, but needed tweaking to suit our menu and production in a commercial kitchen.

Sweet potato is a favourite, we’ve been using it in our beetroot fritters for years as it’s low in starch as well as being full of vitamins and minerals. Combining it with nuts was a no brainer, as they are energy dense which helps to carry us through the day. Next came the spinach, I knew wilted baby spinach just wasn’t going to cut it, so after a call to my fruit and vegetable supplier we decided on some English spinach to experiment with. I’m testing how to cook it whilst keeping the flavor and texture, as well as finding out how long the cooked spinach lasts. First I blanch it in boiling salted water, then immediately refresh it in iced water and drain it. It should still taste slightly salty, however we found it to still have some sand or dirt in it, so now we wash it twice. Yes it’s cheap to buy, however it’s costly to process.

A dish needs a sauce, it plays an important roll in adding flavor, moisture and also bringing the other components of the dish together. We had some peanut sauce handy as it’s used for our Gado Gado salad special, so I decided to give it a go. The fact I like Asian flavours helped here too, although there was fish sauce in the satay, so it’s back to researching. Would you believe there are alternatives to fish sauce?

We are all addicted to smashed avocado, and well aware of it’s health benefits, so I’ve included it, but as we are catering vegan, the feta has been replaced with some vegetable yeast to round it out.

Sometimes a good vegetable dish needs a couple of rashers of bacon at breakfast time, right? I definitely think so, but that also got me thinking, what if you could have the added flavor and keep the dish vegetarian? So onto google I go, and discover coconut bacon. It’s really just shaved coconut with soy sauce, maple syrup, smoked paprika and smoke oil. Simple yes and it cooks quickly so lookout!  Thats where our chefs come in.  They come up with creative ways to make my ideas work in a busy kitchen.  What they think up continues to amaze me and means I need to allow for their creativity in the menu planning process.

So now we have our dish, up on to the specials board it goes. We know what we think, but we are also asking customers we know and trust for their feedback. Often when creating a dish I will already have customers in mind to ask if they’d like to try it, their opinions are a valued part of the process. If the dish lasts four weeks on the specials board it will usually secure a place on the menu, although the sweet potato cakes made the move in just two weeks given their popularity.

Thanks for your feedback, it’s a vital part of making our dishes better.