I glean menu and recipe ideas from many sources. Professional trade magazines -- Foodservice Director and Food Management among them -- give me ideas that are specially suited for the institutional kitchen. Popular magazines like Sunset also provide inspiration. I can often use an idea and work it until it fits a group setting.
A photograph of an artfully arranged collection of skillets arranged on an outdoor buffet table sparked my cowboy breakfast idea. Twin stacks of blue enamel plates and a lone Dutch oven complete the display -- no fancy garnish for the dudes of the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, near Emigrant, Montana.
This thousand-word inspiration gave me the impetuous to celebrate our nation's 230th birthday. The crisp, smoky air of the campfire will greet campers next Tuesday. Bright yellow scrambled eggs, airy biscuits smothered in sausage gravy and gallons of cowboy coffee (hot chocolate for campers) will kick off our celebration next week. The meal will be cooked in cast iron that's stood the test of time from the colonial hearth to the Western range to the backyards of today.
|In 2004, campers kept saying, "That's what 4 a.m. rolls look like!," as they walked through the cafeteria line. Their response puzzled me all morning until I walked out into the dining area and saw this hand-printed menu.|
I keep the notebook handy. Now that I'm commuting to Sacramento each day, the 200-page composition book rests in my daypack. I record ideas -- often gathered from professional magazines on my desk -- and clippings on my hour-long commute home. My 18-notebook collection is full of ideas.
It doesn't matter if the idea comes from TV or print. Shows like Al Rocker's Rocker on the Road can give wonderful ideas. Take Douglas Coffin's New Haven, Conn.-based Big Green Pizza Truck (the show that aired last January). I may not be able to restore a 1946 International Harvester flat-bed truck. But the pizza menu idea will come in handy one day.
They key is to clip ideas and place them in your culinary scrapbook. Soon your collection of ideas, complete with thousand-word photographs will have you cooking for a herd of hungry campers.