People like to think writing is romantic. The writer sits at his or her desk, sipping coffee, gracefully clicking away on the keyboard as the next award-winning piece comes smoothly together.
The truth is—for me, at least—writing is primarily the result of asking a lot of questions, doing a lot of research, scribbling on a lot of legal pads and then writing and rewriting and rewriting some more, before I pass it off to another editor who can see it with a fresh set of eyes and further improve it.
But each story starts with a spark—a short shock of inspiration.
I imagine composing the perfect dish, or the perfect menu, is pretty similar.
So how do you find those short shocks?
I was talking to a club chef earlier this year at our 2016 Chef to Chef Conference in San Diego about how he balances inspiration and execution (by the way, view the latest updates about the 2017 Conference in Atlanta here). He told me his process starts with that coveted Eureka! moment that fuels his sense of purpose.
I asked what his latest inspiration was, and he told me a story: Instead of flying to San Diego like most of us, this chef asked his General Manager if he could instead take a road trip across the country and eat his way from town to town before arriving at the Conference.
His GM said yes.
After the Conference, he planned to work his way back East, stopping at even more culinary meccas to experience the full gamut of regional cuisines the country has to offer.
When I caught up with him, he was only halfway through his journey—but the fire behind his eyes, and the energy in his narrative was palpable. He had so many ideas to bring back to his club he could hardly contain himself.
While travel is a great way to inspire creativity, most of us can’t pack up and take a coast-to-coast road trip. So where does the inspiration for new dishes, menus and creative events come from?
Another club chef I asked this question to told me his inspiration is circumstantial. It comes from walking through a farmer’s market and seeing an ingredient at the absolute peak of freshness. Or from seeing what other chefs are doing.
I think that finding inspiration when I’m not actually looking for it, like a cook who finds his way in the monotony of cracking eggs, is the most revelatory. And when it strikes, it’s magical.
So as you move through summer and push hard to improve your menus, your clubs, your cooks and yourself, keep your eyes open. You never know when—or from where—inspiration will strike.