Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Chef Keith Snow Tells How to Create a New Recipe

Posted in Exhibitions, Programs and Events, The Edible Garden on August 14 2009, by Plant Talk

Uses Architecture as Model, Seasonal Foods as Inspiration

Keith Snow is chef and founder of Harvest He will debut a new PBS TV cooking show in September and will present at The Edible Garden tomorrow.

IMG_0875I am very happy to see the public turning the tide on the recent bad food trends and diets and embracing a seasonal-foods lifestyle. On my Web site, Harvest, I have been promoting the idea of cooking with seasonal ingredients for roughly five years now. I have seen the interest in my work reach a fever pitch this year as people are truly attempting to change their eating habits to a more sustainable and community-based approach that includes plenty of local sourcing. This is fantastic and shows that the public is paying close attention to the chefs that are leading the movement. I’d like to think I am among the chefs making a difference in this area.

In preparation for my appearance tomorrow at The Edible Garden, I had been contemplating what my demonstration should comprise. There are plenty of chefs who give rock-star demonstrations that show off their skills in all sorts of culinary focuses, including seasonal cooking. However, I am trying to do something different this time. I want to grant access into the part of my brain that allows me to create recipes. I don’t think enough chefs, or any for that matter, attempt to teach the art of “recipe creation” to the people they encounter at demonstrations or other public events. I will attempt to change that on August 15 in NYC.

I believe that most “foodies” don’t give their own senses enough credit. Most people know what good food looks like, smells like, and tastes like, yet if you ask them to create a recipe without the aid of a cookbook, things go astray. The prospect of creating recipes for most people is daunting. That was the case for me as well for many years. It was only later in my career in food that I became a prolific creator of great recipes. Anybody can create a recipe, right? Let’s see…how about smoked salmon and peanut butter yogurt with chopped onions and grapes? Does not sound too good, huh?

To create great recipes, you need some guidelines, some boundaries, and some building blocks of knowledge to judge the combination of flavors, textures, and smells. You are attempting to create balance.

To do so, we’ll use a familiar art form: architecture. If you think of old European churches, for example, you will remember two distinct types, Romanesque and Gothic, one heavy and bold, the other light and flashy. These styles will guide us in designing a new recipe.

First settle on a preferred cuisine. For me it’s seasonal cooking; for you it may be low-fat or Italian or comfort food. Then think about architecture. You want your dish to display elements of both forms: Romanesque elements would be heavier flavors and textures, grilled items, roasted items, fatty items. Gothic features would be the finishing touches and pizzazz—light, bright fleeting flavors such as lemon, wine, herbs, and spices. Do you see where I am going with this?

If you create recipes that contain an almost equal balance of these two architectural styles, using great ingredients that are well paired, you will succeed in creating delicious recipes. I will readily admit that you need time to think, time to reflect, and time to create. I do this while taking long walks or pacing back and forth on my front porch. Let’s walk through the exercise and create a recipe together, right here, right now. As I write this, dinner is just around the corner.

I want to cook with fresh cherry tomatoes that I just picked from the garden, and I have some beautiful grass-fed rib eye steaks from a local farmer. Architecture: rib eye is a strong, heavy flavor, the foundation of the meal; tomatoes are sweet but not quite Gothic, they are not bright flavors.

So let’s do this, cut the tomatoes in half, then let’s look for some Gothic flavors. I got it, red wine vinegar, fresh parsley, and fresh basil. I will make a salad of cut tomatoes with fresh herbs and red wine vinegar. But wait, this mixture is a little out of balance, too much pizzazz. I will tone it down by adding another deep flavor, extra virgin olive oil, and, of course, salt and pepper. Now I have grilled steak and a tomato-herb salad.

Still not satisfied. There needs to be more texture, steak and tomatoes are both soft, so for texture I am out of balance. I will add some structural Romanesque flavors by roasting some freshly harvested fingerling potatoes to a crispy golden brown. Crisp and soft = balance. Now I got it.

Time for presentation and plate up: A layer of crispy fried potatoes, topped with sliced rib eye steak, then topped with a few spoonfuls of tomato-herb salad. I could call it quits right there as I feel I have a good dish, but one more element would take it to another level. Steak and roasted potatoes are both heavy or Romanesque flavors, the tomato salad is but one Gothic flavor; I still need more balance. Let’s add crumbled feta cheese, not too much, just a touch. That extra pizzazz will give me the dish I am looking for. A balanced meal that is nutritionally sound and perfectly combines the two art forms architecture and cooking. Dinner is now planned. You just witnessed how this chef creates recipes.

Using this system, I have created hundreds of recipes that are being enjoyed by people in 139 countries of the world via Harvest I hope you, too, can use my methods to create some culinary magic.

So, what’s for dinner at your house tonight?

Try Keith’s recipe for yourself at home!