I just got done making Mexican cinnamon rolls al a mode. My daughter, son and I were hungry. What’s the recipe? Throw some butter, sugar and cinnamon in a pan, drop in a tortilla for a few minutes, flip, roll and serve with ice cream. My daughter loves anything that gives her a sugar high.
I’m a “let’s try this” chef. I rarely cook, but when I do my recipes come from what I think works well together and what’s left in the cupboards. Usually, they never turn out. Frying a pancake of mushy cream of wheat in a pan of extra virgin olive oil and drizzling strawberry sauce on top is not as good as it sounds.
Inspiration, like my Mexican cinnamon rolls, comes from odd places. For me, inspiration usually comes from a collection of people. Maybe my culinary creation and the Food Network can help serve up the source for the qualities in people that make them truly inspirational.
Chopped is the Food Network’s 4 person battle royale for professional chefs looking to contort a crazy collage of ingredients into creative culinary compositions. Three rounds and three baskets. Appetizer, entree and dessert. In each basket lie a cornucopia of “mystery” ingredients ranging from instant lime gelatin to geoduck.
Who is Madison Cowan? Madison is the reigning Chopped Grand Champion, after enduring 5 battles with 16 returning champions. “I’ve been homeless on two different continents. I’ve been part of a youth military. I’ve worked for 4 star restaurants. I’ve actually eaten from a garbage bin once upon a time in my life.” That was part of Madison’s introduction on his inaugural Chopped appearance. Escovitch of geoduck with waffle cone remoulade. That was Madison’s answer to the appetizer round with a basket of geoduck, buddha’s hand, black radishes and waffle cones. I’m a hotdog and beanie weenie kinda guy, but his concoction sounds delicious in an odd sort of way. Play the Grand Champion’s final round video (at least the last minute or so). Don’t have time for the video? Read this write-up from Cuisine Noir instead.
Inspiration comes from odd places. I’m the type of guy that typically reserves inspiration for the Superbowl and a Jordy Nelson touchdown, not a New York city chef. Regardless, something about Madison’s approach to cooking and life struck me. Truly inspiring people seem few and far between nowadays. It’s funny that Madison only has 708 twitter followers. Charlie Sheen has 1,443,495. I don’t even think Jordy Nelson is on twitter.
For me, it always seems that truly great inspiration comes from a few core traits in people. Here’s my top 3. What are yours?
Mind your passion
“My common denominator has to be soul food. You sing with your soul. You make love with your soul. You definitely must cook with your soul.” Madison creates what he calls “soul” food, a comforting, loving, earthy type of cooking with clean, fresh ingredients and global dishes. Madison gets passion.
Another great Madison-ism. ”In Jamaica, they say mind your yard, leave everyone else’s yard alone.” Same goes for passion. Don’t worry about the guy next door or the greener grass on the other side. Mind, water and grow your own passion.
Make your marinade unique
Madison was born in South London to a Jamaican father and African-American mother. His wife is Danish and daughter Japanese. In one of Madison’s dishes, Madison presented it as, “We went to Cuba and France today. It’s a bit of Cuban crusted skate on top of a stewed prune and cucumber ragout.” If there is one person that gets creating their own unique marinade in life, its Madison.
One of my first boss’s always told me, “Be a chicken in the marinade.” Sometimes the most important thing is just to soak in the experience and make those experiences unique.
The cook is only part of the recipe
True inspiration comes from creating a meal greater than you and the ingredients that are used. Most Chopped losers exit stage right blaming themselves, the judges or the competitors. I tried to count the number of times Madison thanked the judges and other competitors. After 30, I lost count.
Madison said, “Either way it goes, I’ve had a wicked time, from first to last. Cheers. [...] When it all comes down to it, it’s for [my daughter].” Appreciate the experience the meal offers and have the humility to realize when the recipe is bigger than you are.
What or who inspires you? Try my Mexican cinnamon rolls. Or just try Madison’s dessert. A dark chocolate and tahini cake with a dragon fruit and champagne compote. There’s a basket of inspiration out there for everyone. What’s in yours?
Want to learn more about Madison Cowan? Read his blog Yum Yum, Eat ‘em Up.