I think I can safely start off by saying that this is one of those things that is personal to every chef in the world. There are different thought process which an individual uses to be inventive and invigorate their creative minds, and I can only comment about how we start....
A & I have TERRIBLE memories (sorry for sharing this A!) so the best place for us to start is by writing on some sort of medium (usually paper although I have recently started trying to use wireless notepad called a Wacom Bamboo Pad. This helps keep all my notes digital & help the environment...plus I HATE piles of paper all over the place, although at the time of this post, A has yet to follow my innovative step!!). Also, it may sound like such a glaringly obvious point to make, but believe it or not it's definitely easier to talk about ideas than to write then down and develop them. The following gallery gives you an idea of several different iterations of our smoked chicken dish from the summer, designed on different mediums (paper, phone-photograph and then some pro-photographs courtesy of Good Things Magazine), and how it evolved to what we feel is a closer to where we finally want the dish.
During my time at Deuxave in Boston we were constantly changing our menu seasonally and sometimes just on a whim! Chefs Chris & Adrienne sometime had access to some killer ingredients (Chef Chris being well know for his ability to seek out hundreds of pounds of Hen of the woods mushrooms seemingly at will!) which just demanded their use on the menu or as a special item even just available for one or two days, but often we began recipe development with a protein. A & I take a different approach and mire often than not start with a vegetable/protein combo. For us the flavours have to make sense so it seems like a natural place to start. The combo is ALWAYS chosen bases on seasonality (which very much helps us on price) and complimentary flavours are then chosen based on endless discussions about how what flavours we think would work well (of course, plenty of writing down of ideas happens through this process!). To complete the "developmental" process we think about textures, balances (whether we want a dish to hit a savoury or sweet or acidic or earthy note) and then by figuring out what we want the final product to look like as well as how the presentation affects the way a dish is eaten. Taste and flavour are always more important to us than "how pretty" something should look.... If you ever eat somewhere that the opposite is true, be prepared to be bitterly disappointed!. Eventually we have a sit down meal with a group of friends/relatives who will not be biased or unforgiving for some initial feedback before unleashing it on the world (more often than not there will be some sort of tweak before this happens). We hope you'll have some feedback for us when we meet you at our next event! R.