Definition - Translation is a concept to quantify the creative process detailing the different ways a dish can be changed to correspond to a chef's vision.
Inspiration can come from anywhere; your experiences, observing nature, tasting other people's food, cultural influences, items currently in season or what's new and interesting from the market. All things may be the catalyst that combined with experience, talent and hard work allows many new dishes to be created. Many times I want to create a dish based on a theme. My wife and I love watching the old Monty Python television series and I was inspired after watching the episode with the spam skit. Why not create a egg dish featuring spam done three ways? The result - spam, spam eggs and spam! What's next, Star Trek or Doctor Who? With the holiday season coming up I also want to create some special dishes for Thanksgiving, Christmas and where ever inspiration leads me. Starting with a theme sometimes seems overwhelming, but a good idea is to focus on what makes the theme different or unique. For example, Thanksgiving brings to me images of pumpkin pie, turkey dinner, dressing, green bean casserole and large portions. Since I have been featuring examples for breakfast or brunch, a turkey hash might fit the bill. Combining the theme with other translation techniques might lead to an omlette with Thanksgiving flavors or we could do something with form or use a new cooking technique. Stay tuned!
Many times a theme is not needed at all; a chef puts an new idea into action and creates a new plate. As I started out, the idea can come from almost anywhere. How can I as a chef increase my chances of creating new and creative dishes? First, experience is key. The more dishes a chef knows about, the more flavor combinations I am familiar with combined with a willingness to experiment provides the fertile environment for creative cooking. Thus, a creative chef must sample new cuisines and flavors, study and perfect new and classic techniques and continuously try new things. Not everything will result in a great new dish but the key is to create the proper environment to nurture the creative effort. I recommend reading A Day at elBulli to see the steps Ferran Adrina took to create the ultimate creative environment at what many say was the best restaurant in the world. I believe that creating a environment condusive to the creative process plus allocating the time to experiment and perfect new dishes was his key to success. Study the work of other chefs to jump-start your own creative processes.