Inventing the Recipe

Local chefs divulge how they generate consistently tasty dishes for their respective restaurants

click to enlarge The Rookwood’s grilled broccoli with Calabrian chiles and Marcona Almond Purée - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
The Rookwood’s grilled broccoli with Calabrian chiles and Marcona Almond Purée
Think you’re the only one who struggles when it comes to inspirational meal planning? What if it was your actual job to wow people with fresh new palate pleasers each and every day? And by people, I mean the gen pop, not just your spouse and those tiny people tugging at your pant legs.

In order to take the mystery out of why restaurant food consistently tastes so good, as well as how to make the job of being a creative home cook a bit easier, we’ve asked three local chefs — Baron Shirley of Inspirado, Jackson Rouse of The Rookwood and Nathan Jolley of La Petite Pierre— how they go about planning the dishes on their menus. Although we’re pretty sure you’re not running a restaurant out of your home, follow their tips and you’ll be planning and cooking like a pro in no time.

Baron Shirley, Chef at Inspirado

CityBeat: How do you come up with your recipes?  

Baron Shirley: For me, it’s a couple of things. The first usually begins with a nice protein I see in a market, be it some really fresh seafood or beautiful cut of beef or whatever. After that I like to fill in the rest of the plate with what’s local and in season. I don’t like to manipulate in-season vegetables much; I like to respect what the farmers have done and serve them as simple as possible — “less is more” is my mantra during the summer. 

The second, considering my restaurant menu is largely multicultural, I like to find dishes that are ubiquitous to a certain region — goulash from Hungary, laksa from Malaysia and lumpia from the Philippines — and reinvent them using local ingredients and my own ingenuity. I like the idea of several cultures coexisting on one menu. ...It’s a never-ending process thinking how to transform and elevate an ingredient.

CB: What’s your favorite recipe that you’ve ever created and why?  

BS: My mother said years ago that if I wanted to be a millionaire, I should jar my bacon marmalade. It’s really good — we put it on our burger at Inspirado — and it’s definitely in the conversation. I do a scalloped corn dish with oysters and creamed leeks for Thanksgiving that’s pretty good also.

CB: What’s something awesome on your current menu and how did you come up with that?  

BS: Has to be laksa. Laksa is the national dish of Malaysia. It’s a dish I’ve been familiar with and have been making for years. I love the flavors of Southeast Asia. It’s chiles, lemongrass, coconut milk and lime. Years ago I was watching Anthony Bourdain sing the praises of laksa. I wasn’t familiar, so I went and educated myself. Everyone in Malaysia grew up eating it, and everybody’s mother had their own version. After reading about 100 recipes, I went in my own direction. I love it and it’s one of our better-selling items in the restaurant. I’ve had people that have spent time in Asia tell me mine is as authentic as anything they’ve had abroad. It’s probably my wife’s favorite thing I make.

Inspirado, 715 Madison Ave., Covington, Ky.,

Jackson Rouse, Chef at The Rookwood

CityBeat: How do you come up with your recipes? 

Jackson Rouse: I read a lot. I also stay current with restaurant openings, food trends and travel via the internet. Most of all, I try to identify with my guests and understand their demographic, wants, needs. I have a unique demographic that ranges from ages 5 to 100, so cool kid food is one of my things, lots of creative vegetable and vegan options, classic elevated burgers and spins on comfort foods. I throw in a little of my travel experiences and music to boot.

CB: What’s your favorite recipe that you’ve ever created and why?  

JR: I like to let an ingredient speak, using the best seasonal thing and not f-ing with it too much. At the moment on this new menu, I really like our grilled broccoli with preserved lemon, oil-cured black olives, Calabrian chiles and Marcona almond purée. It’s vegan, and vegans love it, but if you’re not vegan, you would never know — that’s why it’s a winner. We are proud to serve up an epic meat-and-cheese board that shows off our large pickling production and awesome in-house meats.

CB: What’s something awesome on your current menu and how did you come up with that?  

JR: Our new menu is a direct reflection of the dedication and hard work that a lot of my cooks have put in through the years. I’m blessed with some that have been with me for three years. This menu, we have a “let the kitchen decide” option in which the guest gets four to five courses. It could be completely off the menu, small versions of stuff on the menu or whatever creative juices are flowing. This has been a huge success for my guests and cooks to show off their skills and their food ambitions.  We also really pushed the envelope in local food this menu and have many more local options than ever before — we just won a Slow Food Snail of Approval and we couldn’t be happier.

The Rookwood, 1077 Celestial St., Mount Adams, 

Nathan Jolley, Chef at La Petite Pierre

CityBeat: How do you come up with your recipes? Nathan Jolley: A lot is taken into consideration, especially in the professional kitchen — available equipment, target price point and food cost, seasonal availability, menu longevity, a lot of administrative thinking and menu planning. When these decisions have been made, then we can look at how we want to execute a dish. As for the food itself: experimentation, consultation and tasting, tasting, tasting.

CB: What’s your favorite recipe that you’ve ever created and why?  

NJ: The favorite changes all the time. What I am in love with this week is not what I will be in love with next week. Pride is not much of a factor for me. When folks say they like a dish, I am more humbled than excited.

CB: What’s something awesome on your current menu and how did you come up with that?  

NJ: Can I refer to the Jeremiah Johnson here? It’s an old goetta hot brown (which has) evolved, matured and mutated over the years into a monster dish, named for a dear friend.

La Petite Pierre, 7800 Camargo Road, Madeira, 

Scroll to read more Restaurant Reviews articles
Join the CityBeat Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.