Change up old dishes a bit at a time

Jul 22, 2013 by Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Please tell me the boss did not just request boneless stuffed chicken again for dinner. Why is it that we fall into cooking the same old tired meals week after week?

It’s probably because they like that dish, or maybe it’s because we have fallen into a cooking rut.

There is a whole world of new cuisine waiting at our doorstep, yet we return to our roots, even while in a foreign country. Is it because we crave something familiar when we are in a new place? Quite possibly.

I once worked for an adventurous owner who ate everything under the sun. But on Sundays, he wanted his filet mignon and twice-baked potato. Often, we must accept that the boss wants what he wants. After all, our No. 1 goal is to please the boss. The reality, though, is that fixing the same thing all the time is just downright boring for a chef.

So how do we sway the owner or guests to try something else, pique their interest in a new food, or try a new cuisine all together?

The easiest way I have found is to serve mini plates. If you are proficient in the new cuisine you want them to try, begin with an assortment of appetizers. Offer a tasting menu you want them to try. Mix in a few regulars and make sure it goes with the fare they are used to, but serve the new food up slowly.

Visually, make it more appealing than the apps they are used to. Remember, we eat with our eyes first.

Then begin incorporating small parts of a new cuisine into the old to offer a mixed meal. Perhaps begin with a spice and gradually build a new flavor profile.

If you don’t want to risk tweaking the main meal, try offering something new with side dishes or even plate garnish. Or consider just changing the appearance of the dish. (If you can’t do this for the one who loves the dish, consider changing it up for the rest of the party; they might be as tired of it as you are.)

I find a lot of creative stimuli in magazines. Often, foodie magazines will take old dishes and reduce the fat and calories, changing them up in subtle ways that could open some doors with the boss. The magazine Food Arts takes a modernist twist on the same old meals.

My favorite is Saveur, which takes a minimalist approach to everyday fare. Not one recipe in that magazine looks bad, even if it is the same thing we eat every day.

Whatever you try, make sure it tastes just as good, if not better, than the original.

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 20 years. Comments on this column are welcome at


About Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years.

View all posts by Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson →