As part of our ongoing Evolution of a Dish series, we caught up with Chef Victoria Blamey, former chef at Gotham Bar & Grill and former Executive Chef at Chumley’s in New York City.
As you’ll read, the journey of a dish from inception to a guest’s plate is often complex. Most chefs will humbly tell you that cooking is a craft, not an art. I believe that when done exceptionally well, it is almost always inevitably both.
A great dish has to fire on all cylinders. Taste, texture, temperature, consistency, margin. And the best dishes also tell us a story. It can be a simple one, or a complex one filled with nostalgia and provoking thought. But either way, this to me is where the craft of cooking converges with the art of telling your story through food. And doing that everyday, on time, on demand, with a team you can count on; all the while keeping a business going successfully, is why cooking will never be just an art form. The craft always comes first.
Chef Victoria shares with us how she brought the Lobster Eclair from Chumley’s to life and how she measures if a dish is successful.
The Dish: Lobster Eclair from Chumley’s
Where did the idea for this dish come from?
I had the idea for the Lobster Eclair a couple years prior, originally from my time at Corton back in 2013. I don't love the idea of hors d'oeuvres or snacks, and always felt that they should be more substantial and pack flavor.
My vision was to make something that resembled an eclair but was better and more playful. I feel like Lobster can be boring on its own. It has such a delicate flavor but an interesting texture. You can’t add flavor to the lobster but you can make sure it is seasoned well by brining and slow cooking so the texture is perfect. What made sense in this case was to add flavor to the choux batter.
I ultimately executed this dish in 2017 while I was the Executive Chef at Chumley’s. I thought the snack would be exciting at the restaurant, which resembled an old-school speakeasy.
How do you capture ideas? And where do you store your recipes?
Everything lives in notebooks. The problem that I often encounter is that when we tweak recipes, I’m always too busy to then make those edits in my own book. When I then refer back to my notes, I'm usually looking at an older version of the recipe.
I always tell my cooks to get a small notebook though -- I usually recommend an Address book like a Moleskin since you can store recipes by letter and it’s easy to navigate.
I have started using Google Docs more often to better organize things. It’s so important to put the 'why' behind a dish into documentation. My recipes also include notes on process, time and temperature -- it’s so much more than instructions, so I need to make sure that’s all recorded.
Tell us about your creative Process? What factors (internal & external) do you consider when developing a new dish?
It depends on the dish. I don’t always follow the same pattern. For this instance, I had the idea of a savory eclair and worked backwards from there. I knew that the end goal was the lobster eclair then I worked backwards from the choux batter to the cooking of the lobster to the mayonnaise and garnish, etc.
Seasonality is a no brainer for me and I think for most chefs these days. Part of storytelling is also the purveyor and the origin of the ingredients being used. Sometimes this can be the driving factor of the entire story I’m trying to tell.
When and how does the cost of the dish come into play?
Cost is typically the second thing I tackle after the dish’s concept is developed. I’ll think about if there’s a specific ingredient that makes the dish pricey, and whether or not it’s essential to the end product. If it’s not, I can usually substitute it out for something else, as long as the integrity of the dish is not compromised. To determine the cost of my dish, I’ll typically use an excel spreadsheet.
How do you delegate, document, and/or train your team to ensure the dish is being executed well even when you're not on the line?
The execution at service is the most important aspect to me. The creation of any dish can not compromise the quality and precision of service. Usually there is some preparation done by a prep team who make sure the steps are easily broken down for the cooks.
The first thing I do is train the leading cook of the station the steps required to recreate the new dish. The next day, I then make sure to teach the rest of the team -- I always involve them in capturing the dish’s flavor profile, even though there’s always an exact recipe to follow.
During this time, I also address if the execution is difficult or too time consuming and ask for the team’s suggestions. Since they are the ones working that particular station every day, they would know better what's doable or not.
It’s critical that there are key people in charge of quality control at each station and are absolutely vigilant during service. If there are consistency issues by either a certain product or member of the team, it’s important that the proper hands are present to prevent any issues.
How do you measure that the dish is successful?
First and foremost, I observe how the customers react, and also how the dish is perceived in the kitchen. Lastly, if there’s any media appraisal, that’s usually a very good sign.
You can find out more about Chef Victoria Blamey here:
Get started with meez
To take a test drive of meez, the professional recipe tool assisting chefs in R&D, prep, costing, training, collaboration, and execution, get a free trial or book a demo.