Have you ever seen a great jazz band play together live? Jazz is one of the greatest forms of individual expression. Take for instance, a three piece jazz band, you have a piano player, a bass player and a drummer. There really is no set music, except for the way each player will respond to what the other is doing. It isn't easy. Because in jazz, one must really be somewhat of a master of his or her instrument. They need to play notes on time, and whatever happens is what happens, they carry on from there. Try and listen to jazz someday if you've never been into jazz. And there is many forms of jazz music, smooth jazz, acid jazz, big band and so forth, fusion rock jazz, the sky is the limit with jazz music.
So what I'm getting at is that most jazz musicians aren't reading music, none. They are playing by ear and listening intently, all the while playing their instruments to make a matching sound. Now let's get to cooking, and just improvise. Can we do that? Sure we can and I'll explain to you.
Now let's say you are a very decent cook, you understand salty, sweet, sour, umami, all of that. You know your bitters, you know your basic herbs and spices. You are somewhat familiar with ethnic cuisine, and understand the methods used such as dry heat, wet heat and so forth. OK you are following me.
Now let's take your family, that's right those picky eaters. You have your spouse, and three kids. Your main protein is some strip loin. Beef. Your spouse wants his grilled with a teriyaki sauce. One of your kids wants the strip loin stir fried, the other wants it pan seared with butter, the other wants it made into beef tacos. Wow! That's a lot of stuff to do right?
Well, this is where some of the best line cooks in restaurants shine. This is where you will need to get your skills sharp, your mind alert like a jazz musician. Paying attention to what needs to be done. It is improvise time. You look in the fridge, and yay there's a bottle of teriyaki sauce from a couple of months ago. It's still good, that has a hard time spoiling. Hubby's taken care of or wifey, that's the Teri for the steak grilled.
Now one of your kids wanted stir fry, OK, looks like you got ginger and garlic already in a jar minced, yay again! And there's some oyster sauce too. That's all for the stir fry, and that will do. And you got some left over veggies, perfect! Stir fry is ready.
The kid that wants the steak seared with butter, easy you look in the fridge, but there is no butter. None. And you can't go to the market, they are hungry. But, there is some cream cheese, and chives, and some mayonnaise. Sorry kid, no butter, but this is as buttery as can be. (They'll take it or starve).
Beef taco kid, hmm, you got the salt and pepper, and some hot sauce, and some tomatoes to dice, you do have some chili powder, cool. A can of beans in the cupboard. That works. But there is zero taco shells of any kind. None, What do you do? Well, you look and you have some white bread, half a loaf. OK, you tell that taco kid of yours, "well we don't have any taco shells, but I'll use bread instead." Again if they don't want this improvisational genius of yours, they can starve. Easy right? My mom used to tell me that all the time. "You don't want what I cook then starve."
That's it. What do you think? Now do you understand?
Let's take a look at the teriyaki steak spouse. What if you did not have any bottle of Teri sauce? And no soy sauce. But you got ginger, and oyster sauce. You could blend a little ginger, oyster sauce and sugar to make a oyster sweet sauce. Might work? I think so.
Just use your imagination, and you'll be fine.