4 Chef Tips for Creative Cooking

You, too, can be a culinary rock star with these tips from award-winning farm-to-table chef Naomi Pomeroy.

by John D. Ivanko
PHOTO: Beast

Chef Naomi Pomeroy of Beast in Portland, Ore., is part philosopher, part culinary ninja and part serial restaurant entrepreneur. She has dabbled in everything from hosting underground supper clubs to launching Portland coffee shops, but when The Beast, a unique and cozy 24-seat restaurant serving a new menu each week, opened in 2007, she focused her energy on giving her customers a novel dining experience with every meal.

“Being comfortable is the antithesis of being creative,” she says, and this mantra comes through in everything she does. Pomeroy’s fresh, inspiring attitude earned her well-deserved rock star buzz on the food scene. She was named the 2014 James Beard Best Chef Northwest, recognized as one of the top-six female chefs by Bon Appetit, appeared on Top Chef Masters, and was listed in O: The Oprah Magazine’s “Top 10 Women to Watch in the Next Decade.”

As gastronomic world rightfully lauds Pomeroy’s culinary craft, it’s her inspiring creativity that we all can tap into. “If we bend toward what’s expected, if we try to be all things to all people, our own creativity and passion dries up,” she says. If you’re feeling in a food rut, here are four tips she offers to put some ingenuity back into your cooking.

1. Play Off the Practical

Beast proves that even the simplest, most obvious ideas can turn into something to be celebrated. The tiny restaurant seats all of it’s customers at a 24-seat table, cultivating an intimate, community feel that makes the dining experience distinct from any other restaurant in town—and it all started because it was the only space available.

At only 800 square feet, Beast is nowhere near the size needed to succeed in Portland’s bustling food world, but by using a traditional, communal table, they can seat twice as many people and support their bottom line.

To apply this concept to your own kitchen, think of the so-called hurdles that have gotten in the way of you reaching your cooking goals. Now think basic—maybe drawing on a technique your grandmother would have used—to turn that obstacle into a win.

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2. Break the Rules

Beast offers a six-course, prix-fixe menu that changes weekly based on what’s in season. While developing a completely new menu every week defies restaurant industry norm, where consistency and uniformity reign, it’s also a key motivator in turning out a delicious meal every night.

“Trying new things and constantly working with different ingredients keeps us inspired as cooks,” Pomeroy says. “When we bend to what’s expected and try to be all things to all people, we loose our culinary passion.”

3. Celebrate What You Have

In her TEDx Talk, Pomeroy champions the idea we all can create great things by simply identifying, appreciating and, importantly, using what is right in front of us.

In her talk, Pomeroy shares the root of her culinary passions: being raised by a dedicated single mom with limited financial means. Her mother often made soufflé, a dish that has the perception of being high-end and gourmet but can actually be made with simple, basic ingredients: butter, flour, eggs, milk and cheese.

“My mom did the best with what she had at the time,” Pomeroy says. Rather than seeing economic strain as a burden, she learned at an early age to embrace and celebrate what was available to her. This concept guides Pomeroy when planning the Beast menu. “We don’t have storage room for ingredients, so we need to work with whatever is available at the time,” she says.

4. Always Try Something New

By constantly setting new culinary goals for herself—from the ingredient list to recipes to innovative restaurant concepts—Pomeroy’s passion never goes stale. Her current kitchen challenge is to create a Northwest-Midwest fusion menu in partnership with renowned Wisconsin chef and restaurateur, Tory Miller of L’Etoile for a benefit dinner to build an educational garden space in Madison, Wis.

If your cooking is starting to feel a little sluggish, challenge yourself to try something outside of your comfort zone, and discover what brilliant concoctions you come up with.

Get more cooking tips from Farmstead Chef:

  • 4 Ways to Stay Sane in the Summer Kitchen
  • Excuse Our Nerdiness—It’s Time to Organize Our Pantry
  • How to Make a Fluffy Omelet
  • 4 Easy Ways to Organize for Holiday Baking

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