A question most commonly asked to chefs is where they get their inspiration from.
“Inspiration, for me, often comes from my everyday life," shares chef-owner Lam Ming Kin of MICHELIN-starred Taipei restaurant Longtail. “For example, when I'm travelling or simply strolling along the street, or even on a visit to the night market. Or perhaps when I am tasting a dish, enjoying a street snack, visiting a museum or admiring a painting, any of these moments could become a source of inspiration."
Inspiration also comes from challenging oneself, he adds, sharing how he would also actively look for unique ingredients to experiment on and see whether anything interesting would come out of it. Whenever he brainstorms for a new dish, he is careful not to limit himself too much, and instead, makes sure to stay sensitive and aware when inspiration strikes.
Creating a dish, however, is not just about a single lightbulb moment or the result of a wild dream. In many cases, the process is sheer hard work, requiring trial and error before a final dish comes into fruition. "The path between the moment that inspiration strikes to the completion of a dish involves countless repetitions — and failures," says Lam. "However, I believe the process is the most important thing of all.”
A borderless cuisine: an uncharted horizon of constant exploration and refinement
There is nothing that chefs love more than tinkering in the kitchen without preconceptions and restrictions. This makes coffee an excellent source of inspiration when it is used as an ingredient in the kitchen. From floral to fruity, woody or earthy, the myriad flavour profiles of coffee, along with the complexity of its character and flavour, make it as much a compelling companion to food as when it is enjoyed on its own.
For example, in a dish called Wagyu Skirt, Coffee Mole, Peach, the chef pairs charcoal-grilled Australian Wagyu with a Mexican mole sauce with a spicy finish. Lam adds Nespresso Exclusive Selections' Kenya Milima coffee to the rich and luscious mole, playing on the citrus notes of the coffee to balance the richness of the sauce and meat. The chef shares that this dish was inspired by a time when he was eating wagyu skirt steak with mole while drinking coffee and was struck by the unexpected deliciousness of the combination.
For dessert, he created a dish based on Italian coconut panna cotta with citronella milk froth. As a counterpoint to the bright citrus in the ice cream, the Nespresso Exclusive Selections Nepal Lamjung coffee adds the comforting aroma of toast and biscuits. The sweet treat is lifted with Thai lime oil as a finishing touch. An Italian fusion dish hinting of the tropical flavours of Nanyang, the smooth and richness of the coffee gives the dessert a character of its own.
Lam believes that coffee has an important place in his restaurant, where it plays several roles. While most restaurants only serve coffee to their customers at the end of the meal, at Longtail, coffee features in a number of their sweet and savoury dishes, as well as in the restaurant's cocktail programme. "Once you come into Longtail, our bartender welcomes you with a cocktail as the start of your culinary experience," he explains.
The minds of the most prolific chefs are always at work, exploring different possibilities to further their culinary art. When asked about the most memorable coffee experience he's had, the well-traveled Lam shared about his visit to the iconic Coffee Giang in Hanoi, Vietnam, in search of its famous egg coffee. Halfway through his coffee at a cafe he believed was Coffee Giang, he noticed a constant stream of people going in and out of a small alley next door. So, after finishing his drink, he walked into the alley and discovered that the original Coffee Giang was there. The next day, he returned to the real shop and had a truly memorable cup of egg coffee.
And such is life—a journey with twists and turns that always be a glimpse of hope at the end. Just like a chef’s pursuit of inspiration, it may not the most straightforward nor the easiest journey, but it will definitely be a beautiful one of exciting exploration and experimentation.
This story is written by Hsieh Ming Ling and translated by Billy Kwan. Click here to read the original article.