Test your creativity

Food — By Crust on November 30, 2010

Everyone’s cooking experience is slightly different. People grow and develop differently as cooks as their careers progress. Some cooks like executing a chefs menu and find meaning and a challenge in that for years, while others start thinking of ideas early on. If you get to a point where you are struck with inspiration you need to test your creativity. It is the most important thing that you need to nurture in yourself if you want to become a chef. In the end when you are on your own that is all there is. I remember when I first started cooking I didn’t want to share any of my ways of doing things I wanted to only take knowledge from the people around me. Mostly because I knew virtually nothing and I lack common sense so I wanted to learn good ways to do things. For a brief time I even thought that I wouldn’t tell anyone my ideas because then they would steal them! I thought that it wasn’t fair for a chef to ask his cooks for ideas when it was his name on the menu.

When I finally decided to execute some of my ideas they were a shadow of what they had been in my head and I was shocked. It was my first realization that new dishes sometimes take time to develop, and other times after execution the idea might need to be abandoned altogether. My tests were often a good start but not the spectacular visionary menu items I thought they would shape up to be. I continued to do tests on my own time, because it wasn’t encouraged in the kitchen I was in. I became worn down. With out any support for my ideas or feedback I felt like I was breaking the rules. I remained confused about the whole thing, like I was a jackass for having ideas. Was I doing something I shouldn’t be? This was a compulsion I couldn’t control, I had to test my own ideas or I couldn’t find meaning in the day’s tasks.

I just read in the Noma book about how every Saturday night after service everyone including the comis tastes the creation of one of the cooks. Each cook’s turn comes around once every 4-5 weeks and they present what they have created. Then everyone from the chef to the comis tastes it and gives constructive feedback and criticism. It is a group brainstorming and tasting session in which everyone has some input. The chef thinks that it is one of the most important times in the week for the cooks because it teaches them how to taste and how to compose dishes. He wants his cooks to be part of the collective development. He emphasizes that it is not about stealing ideas from the cooks, as the creations rarely end up on the menu, it is just about helping them develop while they are there. He believes it helps create meaning to what they do instead of just demanding their labour.

I argue back and forth with myself about how I felt and I know I was wrong at times, but in the end I know that I will never let my creativity be pushed aside again. I understand putting creativity aside to learn techniques, but I think that is has a place alongside learning techniques and creativity is something that is much more elusive so when it is there you should be given a chance to explore it. Especially after you have been cooking for 5 or more years.

Many cooks and chefs are on auto pilot repeating themselves and each other. The best food comes from an inspired chef. The best food you will ever make as a chef will be your own, from you. I’ve seen cooks re-create dishes identical to their old chef and it is never quite the same, the magic is gone. That was a long time ago, it is a different place, and you are a different chef. The dishes that stand out on the menu are the original ones that have the magic of the chef creating it, not to mention in the “time and place” the chef is creating the dish. Which is why if you feel like you have some ideas for the menu and there is no way to test your creativity you need to make a choice.

7 Comments

  1. peach says:

    nice one. i’m envious of the brainstorming sessions. strangely enough i had nightly opportunities to create when i first started, but unfortunately didn’t actually know how to make anything. i fed people my awful ideas, and haven’t had many chances since.

  2. Matt R. says:

    Well put. I’ve only been the boss a year and a half, but it’s very astute of you to know that the best dishes on the menu are the ones you’ve created yourself, instead of cribbed from your past. They are also the ones you feel best about serving, and feel worst about when they are QSA’d ‘don’t like’. Boo!

  3. Matt R. says:

    … and who was it who said ‘there’ll be new recipes when they invent new ingredients’? I think I’m paraphrasing, and it might have been a music reference. 🙂

  4. Virginia says:

    Hi Christy,
    I love your site!! I love your words!! You are now showing the wonderful signs of wisdom. It applies to life in general. Everything wonderful should be shared. You have the depth of passion in your creativity, but experience, time and practise can add the “gold”!!
    Have a Merry, white Christmas.

  5. Cam_13 says:

    “Creativity is hiding your sources.” Einstein

  6. Crust says:

    “Creativity is spontaneous, independent thought inspired by your sources.” Crust

    I see your point though Cam, you’re right.

    P.S. I miss you. I must confess I’m super vulnerable and fucked up because I haven’t talked to Bryan in months. I miss his guidance and teasing. He doesn’t answer my texts or calls, I don’t want to bother him anymore. Can I be your burden for a while? Will you be my new Bryan?

  7. Cam_13 says:

    Gimme a shout anytime dude…u still got my number i think…ps he doesnt answer my calls either i call his gf to make plans with them…

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