The 2010 National Restaurant Association survey of American Culinary Federation member chefs reports that inspiration in the food world is most accessible via television and trade shows. The recent boom in social media and networking, however, has sparked additional forms of inspiration.

Cookwork, a new foodservice Web site that provides a network forum for professional chefs around the globe, is one such social media tool that quick-serve chefs find useful in discovering new ideas for dishes.

“The idea of being a chef and creating a network and a forum where you can interact with other chef professionals was an idea that had occupied me for quite a number of years,” says Michal Schlierer, professional chef and cofounder of Cookwork. “We are not a very well-connected network.”

Schlierer says it is important for chefs to share their culinary ideas with others.

“I felt completely alone and uninspired because I didn’t feel like I had the right people or the right network to reach out to when I really needed inspiration and help,” he says.

Like Schlierer, Mike Tremblay, corporate chef for Gold Star Chili, uses multiple social networks to find inspiration for his quick-serve menu items.

Tremblay, however, isn’t abandoning the old-fashion creative process. He still bounces his ideas around at chef conferences and food shows and even watches what his coworkers make for lunch.

“If it’s good enough for them to make,” he asks, “why couldn’t we develop that or look at that further and develop it for mass consumption for the entire company?”

When social interaction doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, Tremblay heads to the grocery store and stands in the aisles, simply staring at the food in front of him to see what grabs his attention.

Dave Fenner, culinary manager for quick serves Doc Green’s and the Flying Biscuit Cafe, says TV cooking shows and cooking magazines are still excellent sources of inspiration. He suggests quick-serve chefs gather as much information as possible, be it from a social network or elsewhere, and apply it in the kitchen.

“Just practice and take a chance,” Fenner says. “Just try doing it. Just enjoy it.”

Although cooking inspiration for quick-serve chefs comes from a variety of sources, most good ideas are found by stepping outside the kitchen and connecting with other chefs.

“We’re all in our four-wall kitchens for too long,” Schlierer says. “My advice would be to always keep looking outside of your four kitchen walls.”

By Jill Watral