One of my favorite parts of being the Chef at Dream Dinners is creating brand new recipes.
As you probably know, the menu at Dream Dinners features 20 recipes each month. My goal is to have 2-3 of those meals each month be brand new; it’s a lot of work, but it’s so fun, and I love seeing guests enjoy the new recipes with their families.
Today I’m taking you behind the scenes of the testing process that goes into each and every new meal at Dream Dinners. This process is so important because it helps us avoid “recipe fails” and ensures that when you and your family sit down to eat together, you’ll enjoy the food as well as the company.
Step 1: The Creative Process
We plan our menus out months in advance, giving us time to innovate and create new recipes that will help balance our monthly menu. At Dream Dinners, we want our menu to have a nice variety of proteins, flavor profiles, cooking styles, etc. Plus, we want to make sure our meals are fast and easy to serve as well as delicious! Before I start dreaming of new recipes, I work with Kacie, our Director of Food and Operations, to identify the types of meals we need to balance our menu. Next, the fun begins! I think about what types of meals excite me, what food trends are happening right now, and then I start innovating.
Step 2: Research, Research, Research!
After narrowing down the recipes that I want to create, like the Springtime Risotto with Shrimp and Asparagus on the May menu, I start doing research. This is when I look at tons of similar recipes and think, “How can I take this concept up a notch? How can I personalize it and add my own twist?” Honestly, it’s a really fun time for me as a chef! Another consideration that I have to make since Dream Dinners meal kits are frozen is, “How well will these ingredients freeze, then thaw and cook?”
During this process, I handwrite my recipe and make notes – lots of notes! I prepare my recipe at home (hence the spilled ingredients on my legal pad), then I make revisions based on how the meal turned out. When I feel good about my creation, I send it over to Kacie, and she prepares the meal for her household of five, which includes a few kiddos. Next, I make any last-minute changes, and then we send the recipe to be tested by our guests!
Step 3: Testing With VIP Guests
When we are ready to start testing the new recipe with guests, we choose two of our stores to “host” the test for us. If the meal is a regional recipe from the U.S., I try to pick a test store from that area since I know those guests will be my toughest critics and help ensure the authenticity of the meal! For example, when I was testing the Southern Shrimp and Grits, I made sure that guests from our Mobile, AL store sampled it, and they gave great feedback that helped me refine the recipe before launching it in March of this year. Our test stores each give out 24 test recipes (for free!) to their VIP guests, and the guests, in turn, agree to prepare and eat the meal, then complete a short survey to give us their feedback.
Step 4: Revisions & Recipe Launch
Once we receive the surveys from our guests who tested the meals, Kacie and I pour over the feedback and make notes. If there are trends in the responses, then I adjust the recipe before finalizing it. After the recipe is finalized, there are still a few more things to do before it goes on the menu. First, we have to take photos of it! We team up with Katheryn Moran, our talented food photographer, for a quarterly shoot of new meals. Finally, we have to decide which menu the new recipe will appear on; this is decided based on seasonality and what other meals will be on that menu, so we can have a nice balance each month.
Never Stop Improving
Did you know that our recipes are re-evaluated each time they appear on the menu? We want to hear from you, and it’s so helpful to us when you rate your Dream Dinners meals each month! In fact, new recipes have to receive at least 100 ratings before they can appear back on the menu. After each menu, Kacie and I personally review your comments and ratings from the previous month. If we see a trend in guest comments, we will take that recipe back to the test kitchen, make revisions based on your feedback, and run it through the test process again before it comes back on the menu. So don’t forget to rate and review your meals each month!
Join me in the Dream Dinners Facebook Community Group for my upcoming Test Kitchen Chronicles, monthly group contests, and more. Have you received one of my test recipes? I’d love to see your pictures and hear your thoughts! Comment on this post or send a direct message on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
– Chef Laura