Tag Archives: creativity in the kitchen

It Came to Me in a Dream

24 Apr
At which point does this cease to be craft and become art?  Or must you learn a craft to express the art?

At which point does this cease to be craft and become art? Or must you learn a craft to express the art?

The Hinternet is a Large and Wonderful place.  I can be going along and going along doing my thing, and a couple of Items will Strike me and make me Ponder.  Usually, I find these items in disparate places.  But they come together in kind of a Hinternet Harmonic Convergence.  And then, the Magic 8 Ball tells me, “All signs point to….”  And then I get inspired, and I sit down and I begin to blather.  Here I go again.  Welcome to my world.

I was over on Twitter yesterday, and @iheartcuppycake asked tweeted, “Just got email: How do you come up with your cupcake ideas? I can’t believe how much I am struggling to answer this.”  I shot back to her this Gem:  “Sometimes it’s hard to explain in concrete terms the intangible. In this case, the intangible=creativity. :)”  And then she tweeted, “So true. Maybe I’ll just quote what you said ;)”  Well, friends, this little twitter exchange got me thinking.  Is there a real difference between people who can create cool flavor combinations or present a dish with a unique twist and those who wonder how the first group does it?

And then, my friend Will from over at Recipe Play emailed yesterday, asking if I’d ever made a Certain Type of Dough into pizza crust.  I shan’t reveal said dough, because I’m sure Will will (ha) as usual, amaze us with the creativity of his final dish, and far be it from me to steal a friend’s Thunder.  Anyway, we emailed back and forth a couple of times about ideas, and this is the last thing he said.  Not ever, of course.  He’s fine, in case you were worried.  Anyway, he said, “Hmmm, this is my favorite part; adding various elements to the beakers and adding electricity!”  Mwah, ha, ha!  Dr. Frankenstein lives.  He lives!  Ahem.

So, the point of this Particular Section is:  Will is excited by the challenge.  He’s looking forward to experimenting with flavor combinations and presenting old favorites in new and innovative ways.  He’s excited about cooking as a Creative Process.

A Very Long Time Ago, we talked about creativity in the kitchen here and here.  I think the consensus was that the confidence to tap into your creativity comes with solid knowledge of The Foundations:  Ingredient Function.  Techniques.  Methods.  But then, how do we define creativity?  Really define it? I just looked up creativity in Ye Newe Dictionary and was rewarded with, “the quality of being creative.”  Fine.  So then, I looked up creative, and got this:  “marked by the ability or power to create.”  Nothing is ever easy.  Of course, I grumpily looked up create:  “ to bring into existence.”  The example was “God created the heavens and the Earth.”  Probably a little grand for our discussion.  This definition seems to best suit:  “to produce through imaginative skill (create a painting).”  We’ll come back to this in a minute.

Is the ability to come up with an edible idea an effect of creativity, or an effect of someone refining one’s craft?  And while we’re at it, is there even a difference between craft and art?  Folks have been spinning fibers into thread and then weaving the thread into cloth for a Very Long Time.  Is the final product an art–completely informed by creativity–or a craft–informed by being adept at certain techniques and procedures?  You decide:
tapestrySomeone comes up with a margarita cupcake with Tequila-Grand Marnier butter cream and lime curd filling.  Is that an art or a craft?  Will decides to use up his leftover corned beef by turning it into a patty melt.  Art?  or Craft?

At the end of the day, I think it’s both.  Even the great Masters had teachers.  Did someone teach Vermeer how to capture Light on a canvas?  Maybe not.  But someone taught him how to mix paints and stretch a canvas and hold a brush.  Did Thomas Keller learn at a mentor’s knee that it would be a Good Idea to put tapioca and oysters together?  I doubt it.  But someone taught him how to make a stock and poach a lobster.

Remember our definition of creativity from a couple of paragraphs ago?  I think it goes something like this, “the quality of being able to produce (something) through imaginative skill.”  As far as I’m concerned, this definition takes care of Art and Craft.  And, if you can think of something and Make It So through your skill, you are Creative.

So, how does @iheartcuppycake explain how she creates cool flavor combinations?  How does anyone?  Simple answer–they just think them up.  Maybe they dream them.  Maybe they’re just floating along on their Stream of Consciousness and something Strikes them and they begin to think.  A lot of times, I’ll start with a Favorite Thing.  Let me give my Mango Lassi example.  I absolutely love them.  They are the best.  Tangy yogurt and mango puree–I cannot drink one slowly.  I will not allow myself to make them at home, or I would weigh Eight Hundred Yogurty Pounds.  Anyway, when I was trying to come up with a cool dessert idea back in culinary school, I started with the mango lassi.  I pulled the yogurt out and turned that into a panna cotta.  I spun the mango portion into a minted mango sorbet.  And I made orange-cardomom tuiles as garnish.  The dessert was Very Tasty, and I for-real dreamed it. Will’s question from yesterday started with a dream he had, too.

Another time, I started with the idea of rainbow sherbet, one of my childhood favorites–raspberry, lemon and lime sherbets, all swirled together.  I turned that into layered raspberry and lemon semifreddo topped with a thin glaze of lime curd.

I think this is maybe the way a lot of people start their Creative Food Process.  They base it on a memory, or a picture, or a favorite drink, and then they see What They Can Do.  If you like a mojito, you could probably think of a way to get rum, lime and mint into a cake or a cupcake or a sorbet or even a tagine.  I bet you can think of an interesting way of re-imagining a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Does the bread really have to be bread?  Does it really have to be peanut butter?  What about the jelly?

If creativity is really as simple (not easy) as being able to Think Up a Thing and then Make It Happen, almost everyone qualifies as creative in one arena or another.  As far as creativity applies to the culinary arena, the making it happen part is comprised of techniques and methods and skills, oh my.  And once you’ve gotten that down, the thinking (or dreaming) things up part comes pretty easily.

Creativity in the Kitchen

22 Jan
Sure, she can cook.  But can she draw?

Sure, she can cook. But can she draw?

Here’s kind of a funny thing.  A couple of weeks ago, someone emailed me and told me that they were interested in becoming a pastry chef, but that someone told them they would have to be creative in order to succeed.  They wanted to know if that meant they needed to be able to draw, because they couldn’t.  Then, earlier today, I received another email from a different person who asked almost the same question.

So, there are at least two people out there in the world who found me, out of all the baking and pastry folks out there on the Hinternet, to ask this question.  I can only imagine that there are a lot of other folks out there who haven’t found me yet (gasp!) or just don’t know where to go for answers.  If you are a)someone who is wondering how creative/artistic you need to be to become a pastry chef or b) know someone who has this issue, or c) is so addicted to this blog that you just can’t look away, I’m talking to you.

Here’s the deal:  creativity and the ability to draw are two different things.  Well, maybe the ability to draw is a subset of creativity, but the inability to draw does not define ones’ creativity.

I’m not sure that it takes a lot of creativity to make a pot of rice, but it certainly takes some creativity to turn that pot of rice into something special.  This kind of goes along with yesterday’s post:  you have got to learn the basics and become confident enough in your techniques and abilities in the kitchen to let your creativity shine through.  It might seem creative to toss a bunch of different ingredients into said rice, but to ensure that the outcome will taste good, you have to understand flavor profiles and how flavors work together–or against each other.

Everything comes back to the basics.  Without them, you don’t have a firm foundation from which to launch creative experiments.

Let’s assume for a moment that we have all got a really good handle on the basics of cooking and baking.  We know our ingredients, we understand and can perform all of the techniques and methods necessary for cooking.  Right, then.  Let’s talk about creativity.

Way back up at the beginning of this post, I said that the original questioner was told that they would need to be creative in order to succeed.  Yes, I think you must be creative in order to succeed as a professional.  Do I think that you need to be creative to follow a recipe?  No, and that’s what I’ve been saying:  a recipe is just one way of doing something that someone just happened to write down.  Following a recipe to the letter is just borrowing someone else’s creativity.

Here’s what I think.  Competence will buy you good, solid, edible results.  Add creativity to competence, and you’re onto something really special.  Competence will assure that you’ve got the right proportion of ingredients mixed in the right way to make an edible end-product.  Adding creativity to that will allow you to add that little extra something to elevate the dish from good to great.  It might be that you use a different mixing method; it might be that you added an unexpected but tasty ingredient or two; it could even be that you present the dish in a whole new way, giving it your own spin, or perhaps deconstructing it on the plate.  Whatever spark that your creativity brought to the dish will make it stand out from the ordinary.

Can you learn to be creative?  I don’t think so.  I think you can learn to be competent, but creativity is inherent.  It can be nurtured and expanded upon, but the original seed of creativity must be there.  That’s why, when you go for an interview at a high-end restaurant, you are given a mystery basket and told to make something using all the ingredients in the basket.  I think I can say with complete confidence that the chef will never, ever meet you at the door with an easel and some charcoal and ask you to draw them a picture of your favorite dish.

Whoa, two philosophical posts in a row.  Weigh in with your thoughts on creativity and cooking, or beg me to “just stop it and write about chocolate!”  Either way, I appreciate the comments.

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