People often ask me what are some of the key skills to succeed in the kitchen. Everyday, I learn more about what it takes to not only survive but to thrive there. One skill, that has certainly served me well (so far!) is the constant presence of pen and paper and a good memory.

In the kitchen, there are usually daily and weekly specials, for which there are no written recipes, and the chefs usually very quickly dictate the basic steps, whilst their team frantically takes notes. As a result of this habit, I now have in my purse, nightstand, knife-roll, gym bag and coat, various small pocket sized notebooks and scraps of paper containing food ideas and recipes. This has made it really easy for me to jot down my food ideas. Inspiration can come from a trip to a market, coffee with fellow foodies/cooks, a great meal or an food article. So now, in addition to my restaurant notes, I have started to accumulate my own food ideas, which hopefully I will use to build a menu for my own restaurant someday.

For this next stage of the Basque Stage Program, we needed to create and cook a dish of our own. So, I figured where better to draw inspiration from my little notebooks full of my culinary ideas. When I put together a dish, I usually have one main inspiration and then create a dish around that idea. My inspiration for this dish was Japanese risotto. Rice can be a tremendous vehicle for complex flavours since rice takes on most of its flavour from the broth and flavours added during the cooking process.

Here is a picture of my preliminary notes on this dish:

With a somewhat clear idea of what I was going to make, I took a trip to an authentic Japanese grocery store in Central London called Japan Centre. I decided to buy traditional Japanese flavours and use them in slightly unconventional ways. Here's what made its way into my shopping bag

From Left to Right: Bonito Shavings, Sushi Rice, Dried Fish and Sesame Flavoured Rice Topper, Dried Shiso leaves; white miso and red miso

The risotto is the heart of my dish and I spent most of my time trying to figure out what flavours to infuse in the dish. Dashi was the obvious choice for the base of my risotto, since it is full of unami flavour. I love the simplicity and ease of making dashi, since it consists of just two ingredients, bonito flakes and kombu (dried kelp).

However, taking a page out of David Chang's book, I decided to add a bit of smoked bacon to round out the flavours. To make the risotto, I sweat down minced garlic, shallot and ginger and then added the sushi rice. Deglaze with sake and then slowly added 1 cup of dashi as needed until it was perfect. The final result was very good, while sushi rice is generally revered for its sticky texture, by slowly adding in the dashi and stirring constantly, the final result was very close to the normal consistency of Italian risottos.

Now for the protein, as the risotto has a very rich flavour, I wanted the protein to be mild and slightly sweet. I marinated the chicken breast in white miso, ginger and chicken stock. To cook it, I seared off the chicken breast and then braised it in a tagine for about 45 minutes. Once cooked, I let the meat rest before slicing for the plate.

At this point, the dish is pretty heavy with the risotto and chicken, so I wanted to make sure that the vegetables and garnish would balance out the salty and heavy notes in the dish. As a result, I decided to pickle enoki mushrooms in a basic rice wine pickling liquid and keep the remaining vegetable garnish fresh. The snow peas and baby corn were gently blanched and then glazed in a beurre monte, using butter and some dashi stock.

Finished Plate: White Miso Chicken Breast with Dashi infused Risotto, baby corn and sugar snap peas with red miso butter, cilantro and ginger puree, pickled enoki mushroom, shiso tempura flakes and bonito flakes.

Here's a closer look at some of the garnish for this dish

bonito flakes:

Red miso butter: Red miso is quite strong, so I soften up the intensity of the flavour by pureeing it with danish butter, and a touch of honey. For the final plate, I put a quennelle of this on top of the white miso chicken.

Kelp and garlic sea salt & julienne spring onions: These added texture, seasoning and freshness to round out the dish
Cilantro and Ginger puree - this is a puree/sauce that I have used in a few different dishes. It is basically a puree of cilantro, ginger, soy sauce, sauteed shallots, thai chili and fish sauce. I've thickened it up with xantham gum, so it has more of a puree consistency.

Well, it was great to take a day off cooking for others and spend a day just cooking for myself and experimenting with flavours.

Bon Appétit