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Unceasing Innovation

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Chef, in your Daily Gullet disucssion with Jonathan Day, you said that "we are moving in a direction; there is no repertoire, there are no signature dishes here." In other words -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- you and your kitchen team are constantly innovating, changing the menu almost daily.

My impression is that most professional cooks are trained not to constantly change but to do exactly the opposite: to get very good at reproducing a set of dishes with minimal deviation from a standard. When you look for sous-chefs and line cooks, are you looking for creativity? If so, how do you evaluate their creativity? How do you find a kitchen team that can keep up with the pace of a constantly changing menu?

Note: Perhaps you will also contribute to the Symposium topic on the advantages and disadvantages of a restaurant without repertoire. You can find the discussion here.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Fat Guy:

Daily is a stretch for us, as I mentioned in another post we change bi weekly or monthly. It takes that long for us to conseptulize, test, and implement new dishes. El Bulli seems to have a unique situation being a seasonal restaurant, they claim to run dishes through a given season. The next season starts a set of new dishes, avoiding repetition. So depending on the dish we decide how long it will run. This depends on seasonality and the movement of other dishes within the menu. The multi course meals we serve are very much like a game of jenga. If you pull a dish the whole menu may collaspe due to repetition of ingredients, techniques, flavors, styles, flow and whatever else we can think of! This means the entire menu changes at once, which is a huge undertaking, both from the aspect of conceptulization, and implementation.

Yes I would say most chefs build a repetoire, set up the kitchen systems and execute those dishes. I feel there are pros and cons to each camp. As I said before Thomas' "oysters and pearls" is probably the best dish I have ever tasted. I enjoyed making it, just so I could taste it on a daily basis. This also ensures the kitchen has the knowledge and repetition to execute the dishes perfectly. Like a sports team practicing. On the other hand as a cook I wanted to explore, and create. Night after night running the same food can become monotonous. Excitement, development of new ideas and techniques also encourages longevity, which every chef loves to have within his team.

Creativity is very important in the searching for cooks at Trio. It is very difficult to determine ones creativity during a stage of a few days. I find it usually comes out in conversation. Most of the time people drawn to forward thinking food are creative, that's why they are intersted in positions to begin with.

But more than anything I find it is infectous. We have stimulating conversations about food frequently. When you sign on at Trio you are committed to the creative process. I think being submersed in that environment constantly helps people tap into their own creative side.

These guys are dedicated. We work hard but we also think hard , it is doubly draining at times. I think it is so fresh and exciting they tend to forget they just worked 16 hours. That's passion.


Grant Achatz



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