Your signature dish is a delicious blend of originality and serendipity, reflecting your personal style combined with your customer’s tastes. As a chef or restaurant owner, you can decide what dishes are on the menu, but your customers will let you know which one is worthy to be labelled as your “signature dish”. So what are the essential ingredients of a signature dish?
Your menu and your restaurant should reflect your cooking style blended with your customer’s expectations, creating a unique style and inviting atmosphere. For example, London bistro Bar Boulud “add[s] an American touch to this French inflected bistro” with sausages and burgers. The signature dish is the Frenchie burger, which combines a beef patty and a confit pork belly with a Dijon tomato compote on a peppered bun. The dish directly reflects Bar Boulud’s position as a high quality restaurant with a family-friendly atmosphere.
Your signature dish relies on the individuality of your customers just as much as it depends on your individual cooking style. If you are working for the late-night crowd, experiment with distinctive finger foods and platters, so you can provide a quick snack on a busy night; your customers might prefer some intriguing twists a traditional three-course meal regular customers will decide which meal is worthy to become your signature dish!
Your signature dish needs to be on the menu every single night so you want to work with ingredients in plentiful supply. In the 1970s, a simple dish of pasta and crisp colourful vegetables topped with an oily garlic sauce frequently appeared on the specials menu of New York restaurant La Cirque; the dish, known as pasta primavera, had originated when La Cirque co-owner Serio Macchioni had whipped up a meal from ingredients at hand. Pasta primavera grew increasingly popular with diners, and it became La Cirque’s signature dish after a glowing restaurant review in the New York Times. Add your own unique twist on local ingredients such as fresh seafood or regional fruits, in order to make a dish which diners will queue to enjoy.
Combine the elements of individuality and convenience to improve on a classic dish with whatever happens to be available. Wolfgang Puck of Spago in California created his signature dish by chance when actress Joan Collins ordered smoked salmon on brioche. Puck had no bread so he improvised by spreading crème fraîche over a freshly baked pizza base, then topping it with smoked salmon and caviar. Not only did he create his signature dish – house smoked salmon pizza – but he also launched the trend of gourmet pizzas.
If customers are flocking to order your signature dish, they are probably seeking a unique eating experience – something that will live up to their expectations and be a talking point among their friends and acquaintances afterwards.
Nouvelle cuisine chef Guy Savoy in Singapore has a signature menu featuring truffles in every dish, with Savoy’s famous artichoke and black truffle soup as the highlight. The nine course menu, at $420 per person, is suited to experienced gourmands who appreciate caviar and foie gras. While your customers may not be experts on the many different ways to serve truffles, they are discerning enough to seek out your signature dish so you want to give them an experience to remember. Incorporate side dishes to provide contrasting textures and flavours, so your customers can savour and appreciate all aspects of your signature dish.
Diners who seek out signature dishes are fascinated by cuisine as an art form, and they are not afraid to experiment. So you can have fun promoting your own gastronomic agenda, hopefully catching the attention of dedicated foodies everywhere. English chef Heston Blumenthal believes in questioning clichéd beliefs about food, which is why he works to revive the popularity of snails by creating meals such as his signature dish, snail porridge. Blumenthal argues that people who have never eaten snails wrongly assume that they taste “not much different from a bit of rubber… but properly prepared they are really pretty tasty.”
Your signature dish works as a talking point and a magnet, drawing new patrons to your restaurant simply because they want to try your unique take on an old classic. Once a meal reaches the status of ‘signature dish’, you need to keep it on the menu and serve it perfectly each time. The rest of your menu can change regularly, but the signature dish must remain.