We cook what we are, and we are a complex combination of all our life experiences with food. This is what makes us unique as cooks, this is what builds our signature that appears on a menu. Like a fine wine we are a blend of different flavors that through experience reflect a perfect mix – each flavor has a role to play and is introduced in the right proportion to create that signature. Like that fine wine, we add time and the temperature of intensity to polish our style, that signature that not only defines the menu, but the entire experience of which we are an important part.
So, where do those flavors come from? In most cases, we do not prescribe a blend or even plan what those flavors are, but we simply experience them as part of living. Those flavors are restaurants we have visited, chefs who inspire us, family traditions that are part of our background, trips that we have made, books we have read, markets we have visited, kitchens where we have worked, and fellow cooks with whom we have shared a stove. It is rare that all these influences are mapped out in advance – they simply happen, and along the way we sift through and categorize them as we search for the blend that will define our style and signature.
Although we rarely map this out, we should open ourselves up to experiences and potential influences. As cooks looking for the right blend, we must taste the world around us. Great cooks never limit themselves to what is in front of them in a current work environment – we need to be inquisitive. So, what might be an appropriate way to approach that wine making method of building your cooking signature?
 START WITH STRONG FOUNDATIONS:
No matter what, a solid chef’s signature stems from his or her full understanding of the foundations of cooking. Knowing ingredient flavor profiles, peak maturity of those ingredients, the standard cooking methods, and how to adjust to conditions posed through the cooking process will be your strength. Once these are mastered then nearly any style of cooking can be approached and adopted. Never lose sight of the importance of foundations.
 WORK WHERE YOU CAN LEARN SOMETHING NEW:
When building your career and your skill set – choose to work in operations that are open to teaching and where the cuisine pushes you to expand what you know and how you approach cooking.
 READ EVERYTHING YOU CAN:
Cookbooks, books on the cultural differences that drive the development of a cuisine, books on professional discipline and working in an open and collaborative environment – anything to do with the roots of a style of cooking, specific dishes, and how the stage is set to adopt a style to your future signature is extremely valuable. Invest in reading.
 EXPERIENCE RESTAURANTS:
Whether you work in a variety of restaurants, stagiaire at a well know establishment, or simply dine to experience a specific chef’s signature – build restaurant experiences into your skill development. These will become your benchmarks – the standards that help to eventually define who you are as a cook.
 TASTE YOUR HISTORY:
Never overlook your family background – in fact seek it out! Talk with parents, grandparents, uncles, and cousins. Research their roots and uncover the indigenous ingredients they likely worked with and the environmental factors that influenced how they cooked and ate. This is part of your DNA – uncover it, embrace it, learn from it, and store it in your mental data bank.
 TRAVEL WHENEVER THE OPPORTUNITY ARISES:
We are strongly influenced by our physical environment and sometimes captive to it. Whenever you travel to a different city, region, or country you absorb something of their culture. Whenever you eat their food, you add something else to your portfolio of experiences. Travel is one of the great educators – it opens your mind and heart to differences and allows you to take in the unknown. This is critical to your signature.
 SEEK OUT FOOD FRIENDS:
One way to push yourself to grow as a cook is to hang out with others who are just as passionate. We learn from each other, influence each other, and pollinate each other. Make food friends!
 FIND A MENTOR:
Find that person or a few persons who have gone through this process and are now comfortable with their food signature. Bounce ideas off them, seek their advice, learn from their experiences, and open yourself up to the challenges they present. A solid education requires a guide on the side.
 BE AN ADVENTUROUS EATER:
One phrase has no place in a chef’s dialogue: “I don’t like…….”, or “I am not interested in trying….”. You may discover that an ingredient, dish, or style of cooking doesn’t align with your signature, but that should never stop you from trying it and then deciding.
 PRACTICE AND EXPERIMENT:
Build your palate by taking your food thinking and apply it to cooking. Some may believe it has all been done before, but truly it has not. Your foundations will keep you out of cooking trouble but stretching your understanding and your comfort level will allow you to grow and develop the uniqueness you seek.
Your signature will take time, invest wisely and never stop adding to your experience and base of knowledge – the roots of that signature you seek.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
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