With all the amazing restaurants I’ve been fortunate to dine at, I have a long list of meals that have blown me away. I don’t have a physical list, but if someone were to ask me to tell them the best thing I ever ate, I would be able to provide a categorized rundown of all the most impressive meals I’ve had at restaurants all over the country and world.
I recently ate a lot of pasta in Rome, a lot of poutine in Montreal, and an epic array of cuisines in DC (including the best meal I ever had… so far). Sometimes I taste something while I’m on vacation or at a restaurant I may not go back to for a while and I immediately start to think about how I can recreate the meal at home.
Since mimicry is the best form of flattery, I try to recreate delectable treats as often as possible. I cooked a lot of copycat recipes in college, where I met my food soulmate/recipe role model, Julianne. She is a natural expert in the kitchen (and also is above average in literally everything she tries, from cross stitching to figure skating).
One of my favorite memories from my senior year of college was spending a whole day with Julianne planning and executing the best. brunch. ever. See, there’s this place called Mama’s Boy, which is by far and away the best brunch restaurant on the planet. If anyone out there can find a place with better brunch, please contact me immediately. One of the menu items Julianne and I both treasure is the Vegetable and Egg Scrambler with goat cheese. It’s served with cheese grits and a biscuit that will send you directly into a blissful food coma. That day in college, we recreated this meal to the best of our home-chef abilities. And we did pretty well! We still continued to go to Mama’s Boy as often as possible after that day, but it was so fun to spend the day gathering ingredients, planning out our recipes, cooking together, and eating a delicious version of a meal we knew and loved.
Since then, I’ve probably recreated dozens of meals after feeling inspired by a restaurant’s flavor combinations or unique ideas. Recently, I tried an amazing paleo bowl at a restaurant near my parent’s house called Butcher and Brew. The combination of peanut, spicy mustard, and avocado was insanely delicious. Every single ingredient was perfectly cooked and played really nicely with the others. I enjoyed every morsel. Right when I got back home from visiting my parents, I recreated the meal with my own ingredients. I kept some parts the same: broccolini, sweet potatoes, spicy mustard, onions. And I added some ingredients I had at home: zucchini and ginger-infused oil. I don’t mean to brag, but I nailed it.
I highly recommend trying some copycat creations, even if it’s just an occasional challenge to your culinary skills. Here are some tips to recreating menu items in your own kitchen:
- If you’re really enjoying a meal, make an effort to identify flavors. Did the chef add a seasoning you can pinpoint? Does a particular flavor seem to come through stronger?
- Think about the order everything was cooked. If there’s one flavor that really comes through in the meal, it’s likely that was added later in the cooking process. Be sure to add the dominant flavors after the food is already cooked by tossing the ingredients or drizzling on a finishing touch.
- Ask the chef. Not every restaurant is willing to share more information, but it can’t hurt to tell your server that you really enjoyed your meal and you want to know a little more about the ingredients. If you’re lucky, your server will ask someone from the kitchen to come out and give you a rundown of the meal.
- Research the skills and ingredients you’re not familiar with. There are so many meals I’ve ordered at restaurants that I feel like I could never cook at home. But with a little Internet research, I usually figure out that it’s not too difficult. I’ve learned how to make a lot of random foods by watching YouTube videos or reading through recipes. Some of my biggest culinary accomplishments include tootsie rolls, candy corn, egg drop soup, and homemade nut milk.
- Presentation matters. I’m single and I live alone. So I get pretty uncivilized from time to time and just eat directly out of the pot I cooked in. But presentation is part of the experience of going to a restaurant and eating something totally mind-blowing. If I’m recreating a meal from a restaurant, I tend to plate it and make it look as good as it tastes.
- If at first you don’t succeed, try again! There’s no harm in attempting a recreation and failing the first time around. I recommend attempting recipes in smaller portions so you don’t waste too many ingredients if it goes South. If you don’t love it, take some notes on specific aspects that don’t seem right (over/under salted, over/under cooked, etc.) and try again the next day.
Have you ever recreated a restaurant meal? Link to the menu in the comments section below and tell me about your experience!