Your signature recipe

Finding the right process for your next design project


My mom’s signature dish is “Bacalao a la portuguesa”. I call it Bacalao Manuela, Manuela’s Codfish.

Illustration of a codfish

Illustration by Silvia Fernández Palomar

It’s delicious, and she sent the recipe to me in Spanish. Here is my free translation:

I usually get one of these 500 g trays where cod comes in small pieces. Soak it in water overnight, changing the water once in 24 hours.

Fry 2 or 3 thinly sliced potatoes in olive oil, low to medium temperature. Drain and set aside. To the same oil, add 3 onions and slowly cook them. Bring both ingredients to an oven-friendly tray.

Using the same oil, fry the codfish, drained and flour-coated. When it’s done, take it out and shred it, mixing it with the potatoes and onions inside the baking tray.

Wisk three eggs and a bit of milk, and pour it onto the tray with the rest of ingredients. Bake at 180ºC.

Once the egg is cooked, take the tray out of the oven and have a good shower, as frying onions will leave a terrible smell on both your hair and clothes.

Isn’t she lovely.

My ex-colleague Jun Lee’s signature dish is what I called “Leftovers tapas”.

We have breakfast (and, some days, lunch) catered at our office. On Friday afternoons, as the team started to pop some Rosé, he would open the refrigerator, and carefully re-purpose whatever was about to be thrown away: half bagels and croissants, fruit, hummus, cold cuts, cheese or butter were turned into bite-sized delicatessen, carefully laid out on a couple of cutting boards.

I am terrible at following recipes and too lazy to shop for specific ingredients, so my signature dish is always a new one. I call it “Leverage cooking”.

I open the fridge and look for open containers of food, some protein or veggies that are screaming to be used, and I then figure out a combination of some of them with whatever is in my cupboard, to come up with a meal that is (hopefully) tasty and that prevents me from walking down to the store.

There are three rules you have to follow in ‘leverage cooking’:

  1. Always have some non-perishables ingredients like pasta, rice or some frozen bread you can toast.
  2. Develop a collection of methods that work and flavors that go well together.
  3. Manage your (and your family’s) expectations: at home, olive oil and garlic spaghetti can be a five star dish.

Following a known recipe with specific ingredients, repurposing something from past projects, or leveraging whatever assets are available are three acceptable formulas. All require some level of expertise, a set of skills and proven methods that match the desired outcome.

What is your signature recipe? Does it follow one of these patterns or a different one?