When cooking is a creative passion, it becomes an extension of the self. Today, the world is full of gourmets and foodies, the latter enjoying all food and dish in general while the former being a connoisseur.
For gourmets, old-world cruises may have meant dining on standard fare, with nothing ‘exciting’ being served. Today, cruise ship companies tie up with top chefs to offer exquisite, one-of-a-kind food worthy of a special meal. They serve signature dishes that identify with a particular chef. This means, that both gourmets and foodies have their souls satisfied – the former are able to relish finer tastes on a cruise ship, while the latter can expose themselves to a variety of top-notch cuisines within easy reach.
Signature dishes are almost like an artist’s style or author’s voice where discerning viewers or readers can name the individual just by looking at the piece of art or body of text. Similarly, connoisseurs of food can often name the chef simply by tasting the dish – some even without visual cues of plating.
A few of the most well-known signature dishes include Gordon Ramsay’s Beef Wellington and cappuccino of white beans with grated truffle, Heston Blumenthal’s Snail Porridge and Franz Sacher’s Sachertorte. Chefs can have more than one signature dish.
Some signature dishes are created by accident. Jean George apparently created the now famous chocolate molten cake after he took his dessert out of the oven too soon. His cake has a brownie-like crust with a warm oozy centre that has the consistency of chocolate pudding.
Most often, however, well-known signature dishes are the product of hours of painstaking effort and in-depth knowledge of ingredients, tastes and techniques. Blumenthal’s Meat Fruit, for example, sings of his love for technique – using a bain marie to cook chicken livers, creating silken meat paste using sieves, and the additions of four alcohols to infuse delicate flavours into a dish that looks like a sweet-tart mandarin, but tastes savoury and rich.
But it’s not just top chefs who can make signature dishes. As cruise ship chefs on the rise, you can make one too. Recipes are available by the thousands, but you probably have your favourite way to make your favourite food item – it could be a bruschetta, a pasta, a vegetable bake, a grilled beef steak, a kulfi or even a gin and tonic.
The beginnings of a signature dish lie in your love for the basic dish or key ingredient. Perhaps you love making pasta with tomato sauce. Start by studying flavour combinations or go with your gut feeling on what you could add to your dish that might make it different or better. Experiment with spice, herbs, additions like vegetables or meats and other condiments.
You can also try different ways of cutting vegetables or meat, as well as presentation that will make it visually more appealing so as to be able to serve it at a more formal dinner party rather than just a family meal.
Go with a different way of preparing the dish – if it is usually fried, try steaming, grilling, poaching or baking. Choose serving dishes that complement the way you want your dish to look. How hot or cold you serve a dish can also affect the way it tastes.
Many small details go into creating a dish that speaks for you. You’ll find butter chicken in any restaurant across India, but perhaps there are moments when you close your eyes and you can almost taste the distinctive flavours of the one your grandmother made. It’s still butter chicken, but it’s her signature dish because you would be able to identify from any other.