(Check out my Introduction to the Culinary Creativity series.)
Chef Evan Percoco is the Executive Chef at BOKX 109 American Prime, steakhouse located in the Hotel Indigo in Newton. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Evan started his career at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. He went on to work in both Orlando and Las Vegas, before eventually coming to Massachusetts to work at Bokx 109. I recently attended a wine dinner at Bokx 109 and had an excellent meal. I will be returning to check out the regular menu, which I found quite intriguing.
Now onto the Interview--
How important is culinary creativity to you? Why is it important?
Culinary creativity is part of our day to day existence in the kitchen. If we were to create the same dishes over and over again our culinary team’s exuberance would naturally plateau. Creativity is the hallmark of any true chef. Equally important to our own professional growth is the commitment to assist in the growth and development of those who’ve chosen to work and learn from us. It’s a privilege and a responsibility I take deadly serious. The dividends it pays are employee retention, a more engaged team and one that is more versatile and technically proficient.
What are your most significant inspirations for your culinary creativity? What makes those matters so inspiring?
Seasonality and ethnicity are where my most substantial inspirations are born. Capturing the very best of a region’s harvest just makes sense and I’ve always been fascinated by the farmers and cultivators of local bounty whether that’s in the area of produce, dairy or proteins. It’s one of the reasons I chose to live on a homestead of a working farm. I’m personally inspired to incorporate ethnic influences into my creations and love following other chef’s who are equally inspired. The internet has helped dramatically in being able to explore the engineering of menus globally and it’s a resource of which I take full advantage.
Where do you get your ideas for new recipes/dishes?
Ideas spark from many forms, weather its the season, food shows, magazines, I find the best ideas come from one person’s idea then others collaborating on it making it better and better. I often find when plating a new dish i continue reviewing its taste and presentation. I will often change the dish many times before I am satisfied with it final presentation.
What is your process of creating a new recipe or dish?
It starts with an idea, then pen to paper, a presentation to taste, more collaboration, then it runs as a special, we solicit guest feedback then a possible slot on the menu.
Do other members of your staff assist with creating ideas for new recipes/dishes?
Absolutely. As I said, it’s a collaborative process. I think it’s fair to say some have much greater influence than other’s however. My culinary “right and left hands”, my Chef de Cuisine and my Sous Chef are clearly trusted confidants in this process along with our restaurant GM. Probably as important as anyone is my business partner and (very) long-term creative collaborator, Lou Carrier. Lou’s vision for this restaurant alone inspired our re-connection in the creation of BOKX 109 American Prime and that vision naturally translates to the plate.
Sometimes creativity comes from natural inspiration, sometimes it comes from a challenge and believe it or not sometimes it comes from a threat! I think the relationship Lou and I have had over the years has repeatedly dabbled in all three. In the same way I know I influence Lou’s decision on things like design, marketing and business operations there’s no question he has influence on what I put on the center of the plate.
How do you test new recipes/dishes?
When looking to change a dish on the menu Its usually more then 7 to 10 dishes at a time. First the dishes are placed on our menu and compared to the previous version making sure that it meets our expectations for wording and placement. The dishes are prepared one at a time checking recipe cards for accuracy. A digital photo is taken for our archives. Then the dish is tasted by a small panel to critique. Some dishes are home runs some are omitted. It is a humbling experience having your dished critiqued.
What is the most difficult part of culinary creativity?
It’s actually the joy of my profession. There are no difficult parts. Its more simply the challenge to carve out and commit to the time necessary to let the process be fulfilled. You need “brain time”!
Do you ever experience “writer’s block,” an inability to be creative, and if so, how do you deal with it?
I have but fortunately for me it never lasts long. I’m naturally looking for the “next” thing so I’m always snooping around, talking to fellow chefs, reading new and different cookbooks, experimenting, etc. I was blessed with being trained, apprenticing and cooking under chefs who felt this craft was a religion…..classically trained traditionalists. And thank heavens I was. Plate composition and menu engineering ultimately ties back to the classical approach. Sometimes all it takes is to re-read the menus of Bocuse and others that can get me going on something completely new and exciting. Sometimes it just happens after a nice evening of conversation with my wife!
Relate an unusual or interesting anecdote about the creation of one of your dishes.
Sometimes new dishes just happen. Maybe your one of our regular guest that receives a Amuse Bouche, maybe you have a food allergy or a vegetarian I feel some of our most creative dishes come from experiences where we are challenged at the time of service.