New York's Top Chefs Spill Their Secrets To Staying Creative

Two years' worth of interviews with New York's culinary stars reveal important insights about pushing your own boundaries.

Jacqueline Raposo has spent two years interviewing more than 100 of New York's most creative people--the city's top chefs. Restaurants are a notoriously competitive game, and New York is a city bursting with of serious food talent; staying on top means constantly pushing yourself. In her column this week on Serious Eats, Raposo reflects on these conversations and highlights the lessons about creativity and business that have most informed her own personal and professional life.

The full column has a lot of great insights, but here are three top takeaways:

Alex Stupak of Empellón: Creativity Needs Stress and Fear

"Creativity has to be about doing something you don't know how to do. So if I do what I know how to do, blindfolded and drunk, and get praised for it, where's the personal excitement? The stress or the fear? Where are all those emotions? All those things need to go into creation.

"It's not about getting good reviews--it's about doing something you haven't done before. So if it takes me 10 years to get to that, or 15 or 20 or I never get to it, at least I'm trying to do it."

Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy: Be Honest With Yourself and Others About Your Challenges

"I started thinking about writing [Dirt Candy's] blog; it was around the time Top Chef and the Food Network were exploding and really glamorizing this life that isn't glamorous at all--it's wonderful and awful at the same time. I just felt that there needed to be some perspective that was, you know, that this is really, really hard and it's emotionally draining, and other people need to know that before they decide to be a chef. I used to think the real competition on Top Chef would be two people cleaning the grease trap. Once you own your own restaurant, you're the expendable person, so when the dishwasher doesn't show up, you're the one who's gonna wash dishes."

Dave Arnold of Booker and Dax: Make Sure Your Style Has Substance

"I think at the very beginning we as a group were too excited about the things that we were doing, and that translated. I was reading Yelp--horrible, horrible thing to do--and this person was like, 'These guys really love their technique stuff.' That's the last thing I wanna hear. So we had a meeting and I was like, 'Listen, this is a bar, not a tech bar.' I don't want the tech thing shoved down the customer's throat. If someone says, 'Oh, peaches, how did you get it to be clear?' Then we say, 'We blended it with an enzyme that breaks down pectin and hemicellulose, spin it in a centrifuge at 4,000 times the force of gravity for 15 minutes, strain it off and BOOM, there you go.' But if they just want a peach drink, we say, 'Here's your peach drink.'

"This is not about flashy stuff. Okay, we chill glasses with liquid nitrogen; it happens to be the best way to chill a glass."

[Image: Flickr user Sodanie Chea]

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