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Blog at Chefify

How To Find Your Culinary Niche

Nov 20 2018 - 12:29pm
The food you cook says a lot about who you are as a person and a chef. Your culture and family traditions are embedded in your palette, and it’s likely that this is where your initial inclination towards cooking stems from. As you rise through the ranks to become a head chef, you will hopefully gain more freedom to express your creativity and share your culinary inspiration through the meals you prepare.

Before you can start experimenting with ingredients and indulging in daring combinations, however, you do need to have your basic cooking skills firmly established. Honest and willing tasters will also give you the necessary feedback to perfect your dishes. Once you do, you’re on your way to establishing yourself as a specialist – something that many employers will rate highly when viewing applicants.

Your culinary roots

Making choices is always tricky. Deciding what to focus your attention on can leave you anxious about what you’re missing out on by only zoning in one or two particular cuisines. However, this needn’t worry you. In a globalised market where consumers are always looking for something unique, it’s better to be a master of something than a Jack of all trades. This gives you a stronger selling point and more gravitas as a chef.

Six tips to help you identify your culinary niche:

  1. Start with what you know. Choosing traditional recipes, deconstructing the ingredients and experimenting with subtle changes in the flavours or presentation could help you to refresh an old recipe as well as conjure up new and exciting tastes that enhance an already loved dish.

  2. Draw inspiration from your surroundings. Take the time to visit local farmers markets. Find out what cuisine your region is known for. Are there any unique herbs, historical monuments, folklore, etc. that could help you to localise your menu?  How can you infuse your dishes with a hint of the environment around you or your restaurant?

  3. Study the greats. The culinary arts are continuously evolving as new technologies and ingredients become available, but essentially, humans have been cooking for thousands of years. We pass knowledge and tradition on from one generation to the next. Read the books of your cheffing heroes; study the ingredients and techniques they employ, then see if you can improve on them and evolve your own style.

  4. Know your market. If you’re likely to be developing a customer base in one specific area, take the time to study the preferences and eating style of your potential patrons. Cultural and lifestyle factors will significantly affect people’s food choices.

  5. Practice. As with anything in life, deliberate repetition is key to accomplishing anything. You want to be able to produce your signature dish consistently. Sometimes, in your practice, you may even discover new ways to tweak and improve the recipe until it hits the sweet spot.

  6. Less is more. The secret to your chef-d’oeuvre shouldn’t lay in the technical complexity of constructing the dish, or the unrecognisable and exotic flavours you have tried to create. There is integrity in simplicity, a balance of flavour and impeccable presentation. Not forgetting, of course, you will need to keep cost-effectiveness and preparation time in mind.

Why is it important to have your own cooking style?

What inspired you to work in the culinary industry? Was it your love of food? The satisfaction of delighting other food lovers? Your desire to improve on the cuisine in your part of the world? A longing to carve your name out as a culinary talent?

Whatever called you to the cheffing profession, you should have by now discovered that money is not always the motivating factor. Financial success is a byproduct of hard work, innovation and excellent people skills. Having a cooking style will go a long way to help you achieve all of this.

When you create something that can be uniquely attributed to you or your restaurant, such as a signature dish, you are not only feeding your creativity but also capitalising on your skills far more effectively than if you just stick to traditional cooking.

In the US, approximately seventy percent of new restaurants that make it past the first year will shut shop in the next three to five years. In a cutthroat industry, differentiation is critical. 

There is arguably a lot to be said for the chef’s special, and in fact, patrons will often evangelise certain establishments for their revered menus.

Whether you chose to focus on a specific cuisine, refresh an old favourite or position yourself as the next Heston Blumenthal, you need to be prepared for an exceptional amount of hard work and time to hone your skills before branching off into unchartered waters.

This all being said, we live in the age of the personal brand – individuality, engagement with your audience and close attention to their wants and needs will help to shape you as a highly demanded and respected chef.   

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