Do you love to cook?
What is your method in making a meal? Do you find a recipe? Or buy cookbooks? Or just buy random ingredients and see what happens?
Most beginners follow recipes and they should. They are easily inspire-able pieces of work with measurements to build something.
When I started cooking for fun in high school, I read recipes and watched food network religiously. My parents entrusted me with $80 dollars so I could buy groceries and experiment. So I cooked dinner like, every night for about 4 years at home.
Then I posted them on facebook and people liked them. Looking back, they look terrible. I also started inviting people to try my food and people enjoyed that too.
Taking a different route, I jumped into food science but it seems like the creativity of cooking came with me.
Not only that, but food science taught me even more handy tricks to wow people. For example, emulsification, protein functionality, and now, the complex world of flavors.
Cooking is a valuable skill that everyone should be able to do, but if you take a twist on it creatively, it might help you in other areas of your creative life.
Cooking is a HIIT
HIIT refers to High Intensity Interval Training, where you have to train really hard in a short amount of time and is arguably a good thing to do when getting healthy
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Cooking is one of the fastest way to flex your creative muscle mainly because you are playing with temperature, a very time sensitive mechanic. Whether it’s a stir-fry or a braised pork shoulder, the length of time for a piece of food is significantly shorter than any painting or sculpture.
Not only that, but cooking is the easiest method to get creative because it costs next to nothing and you can screw up.
Take cooking an egg, which is like 10 cents an egg. There are a million ways to screw up an egg. You could break the yolk, or add too much salt, or the proteins coagulate too much. If you like your yolk a certain way, then that gets even harder.
Because eggs are so delicate, they make the perfect medium to try everything. Not only can you cook the whole egg like, 10 different ways with various volumes of water or oil, but if you separate the white and yolk, both have crazy properties to create masterpieces. Egg whites, for example, can be whipped and create edible clouds. A yolk is a powerful emulsifier that can enrich a sauce making hollandaise and lemon curd.
Yet it takes maybe 10 minutes at most to prepare an egg. Much faster than any type of create artform when it comes to being a beginner.
Another note: Failed at cooking and your eggs get rubbery and gross? Eat your failures. This will calibrate yourself to do better next time.
Cooking the Same Thing is a Job
Chefs have to cook the same thing every day, your mom probably had to cook the same thing too. This is important, as a chef is paid to cook and your mom needs to feed her family. If you want to work on being creative, you can’t cook the same thing every day.
If you truly want to strive for being a creative individual, diversify your cooking diet. Look at what you currently eat. Couldn’t you make it at home? If you can, what would you change differently? This is actually what my grandma used to do. She found dishes she enjoyed and just copied them after some experimentation. This was before the internet!
Also, cooking at home saves a lot of money.
But don’t get me wrong, cooking the same thing every day practices craftsmanship. A cook at a diner during rush hour can probably scramble more eggs than you can. However, the point where efficiency meets creativity levels off in months after doing the same thing over and over again.
There are so many cultures and dishes all over the world. It would be a shape if you just tried a handful, right?
Translation into other Creative Avenues
One of the best theories I’ve heard on being a better creative is that as you keep on trying new things, you can find common threads in what makes something work. As someone who does such a thing, you realize you can distill certain hobbies or even professional skills as basic components or building blocks.
Cooking teaches you to create fast using time sensitive material in a timeframe that is generally unfavorable, which is a vital skill to have. It translates very well in fast pace environments which is why the chef life is so hard.
Not only that, but you seriously have to eat every day, therefore, you can cook every day. An artist doesn’t have to paint every day (though they should) and a writer doesn’t have to write every day (though they also should). Cooking can be easily practiced if you have the proper mindset to explore the vast culinary landscape of your supermarket.
Not having the time to cook is a valid excuse, but not a good one in terms of pushing the limits of creativity. A lot of exploration can be done with canned beans, frozen vegetables, and of course, the canvas that is the crock pot.
So two skills show up right there. Speed and doing it every day can be translated into every aspect of your life and are very transferable skills when it comes to creating and innovating.
Tips on Cooking Creatively
Here are some exercises I use to innovate my cooking. They go from easiest to hardest.
- What kind of spices or herbs can you add to a tomato sauce to make it the best sauce you’ve ever had? Will oregano or thyme work? What about cumin? Or a pinch of cinnamon? Let’s not even think about spices! Add butter, cream, or vodka to a tomato sauce in various amounts and really stretch your creative muscle.
- Take something you don’t like to eat and try your best to make it something you do like. I’ve done this with lentils by making a thick curry lentil, brussel sprouts (where I boil and blanch them and then saute with garlic), and water chest nuts (roast them so they get soft). By manipulating the color, taste, or texture of a dish, you can make some pretty awesome stuff
- Have a weird ingredient from an Asian supermarket? Look up its relative and find a dish where that’s used. Taste the weird ingredient fresh and see how it can pair well with other foods.
- Pantry raid: Look in your pantry and try your best to mix and mash all of your pantry ingredients for the sole purpose of not spending money and eliminating food waste. Flour and water can easily make a scallion pancake base, eggs can do everything, oils can turn spices into flavor bombs or thickening agents, the world is yours.