Hit the specialty stores. One day at Hana Japanese market in DC, I found myself loading up on ingredients that I either don’t normally use or cannot find at my regular grocery. This one act resulted in a totally different style of cooking, at least for that week, and later led me to latin American markets, Kosher aisles in my neighborhood store, Indian grocers (spice aisles especially) and other ethnic food shops near home. The best part is that “specialty items” are much cheaper when they are not considered “specialty items.”
Hit the farmers markets to see what’s in season. Whenever possible, I try to draw from an ingredient-centric philosophy by finding items that are in season and then center my dishes around those ingredients. I then devise a three-day menu incorporating the focal ingredients so that I can get the most bang for my buck. Smart cooking, lean thinking.
Stoke inspiration from past experiences. For new ideas, I think back to my travels, to places in which I’ve had the most wonderful meals of my life and then try to recall what it is that made that meal so special. Often it was family-style sharing or great conversation or ingredients straight from the source that made the dish. At other times, it was a truly delicious ingredient or preparation: like white truffle from the wooded areas in southern Slovenia, or Chimmichurri from Argentina (loosely translated from English/aboriginal/Spanish as ‘condiment’); fresh pineapple from Hawaii, or noodles from China. I get so excited about how one great flavor or ingredient, and also a sense of memory and place, can drive a whole dish.