How do you know if your food is good? If you like it and some else doesn’t, does that make it bad?
When I was first coming up in the restaurant industry, there would be days that my chef would let me make one of the specials for the day. Sometimes I’d know just what to do. But in the beginning, more often than not, my stomach would clench into a knot and I’d get a little panicky. To work through the panic, I’d talk to myself, “I know I can make good food. I’ve made dishes that I like in the past. I can do this. All I have to do is begin with the first ingredient and then add what feels right…” and so on.
As I look back on that self-talk, realize I still do it, but in a much more abbreviated way. I still ‘feel’ my way through anything that I’m making. I try it out in my head: does the combination of ingredients makes sense, does it feel right, do I get excited by the sound of it? Then, once I’m actually cooking: does this dish need any thing, do I feel like doing a ‘happy dance’ or fist pump when I taste it, do I taste it more than three times (A sure indication that I’m now eating and not tasting and the creating portion of the program is now over.)
Then once I’ve made something that I like, the question becomes, ‘How do I know it’s really good?’ For a new chef or one creating a new menu, this is a no-man’s land space of self-doubt because this ‘knowing’ and certainty comes from watching and observing your guests eat what you’ve created. Watching what they go for a second time and what they leave on their plate. It’s also about how to truly trust your instincts and to know when something will please a crowd. Just as much it’s about knowing when something is good, but not as accessible to a crowd. The more creative the food, the less approachable.
The bottom line is that for every chef or even home cook, you have to cook what you love. If you like it, then others will too. And if for some reason they don’t, then you can still know that it’s good. Not every dish will be loved by everyone, but that does make it a bad one.
Trust your instincts