Kitchen Creativity

One of THE great books of 2017, and sure to endure: Karen Page and photographer Andrew Dornenburg’s Kitchen Creativity: Unlocking Culinary Genius—with Wisdom, Inspiration, and Ideas from the World’s Most Creative Chefs.   

That’s a tall order! And in this, their 11th book, they deliver. A couple of delightful quotes from the mountains of dazzling praise for Kitchen Creativity:

“Utter genius…If Leonardo da Vinci wrote a book on culinary creativity in 2017, this would be it.” — Michael Gelb, NY Times bestselling author of How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci

“A delectable mix of sensuality, intellect, insightand surprise that reveals not only the secrets of creative chefs, but of creativity itself.” —MacArthur Fellow Robert Root-Bernstein and Michele Root-Bernstein, Authors, Sparks of Genius: The 13 Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People.

What I love about her new book: Karen is putting people at ease.

She lays out creativity in 3 stages:

  • Mastery. Mastering the Fundamentals | Studying the Past | Learning by Copying
  • Alchemy. The Evolution of Classics | Converting Food Through Flavor | Flavor Dynamics | The Flavor Equation
  • Creativity. Cooking with All Your Senses | The WhoWhatWhenWhere&Why of Creating a Dish | Evolving to Interdependence

Kitchen Creativity pulls back the curtain on “a world of infinite culinary possibilities.” For the chef, it truly comes down to the basics: the quality of your ingredients, how you’re going to make your ingredients shine, and how you’re going to tell the story of your dish.

This is where I always feel that her books are so masterful and useful for a cook whether a beginner or expert. She piques our curiosity: Have you thought about this ingredient with that?  But here she goes beyond heightening our knowledge and skills to cultivating our creativity— increasing our confidence, autonomy and leadership in our own kitchens. Did you know that “chef” means “chief” in French? Dear reader, you can be the chef/chief of your domain!

Lots of people think, I’m just not the creative type. But EVERYBODY has creativity. Whether you’re right- or left-brained, there’s an intuitive part of yourself that knows. You can be an accountant or coder and be incredibly creative. When you’re familiar with your world, there’s a way in which you can use your instincts to confidently move forward.

Kitchen Creativity Open Book

What informs kitchen creativity?

  • Having a skillset: how to use your knife, heat your pan.
  • Using your senses: pick out foods each season that have gorgeous colors, that smell marvelous.
  • Trusting your instincts: play with with different flavors, see where that goes.  
  • Playing with flavor. It’s fascinating to read how these top chef’s connect with creativity in their kitchens. Jessica Largey, James Beard award-winner for rising star chef of 2015, talks about seasoning and adjusting flavor. She says, “One of my friends says my middle name is “Lemon Juice” because whenever I’m asked to taste a dish I almost invariably say it needs lemon juice. I love citrus in general, but I especially love lemon juice for the acidity and brightness it gives.” Right up my alley! Read my post The Power of Yum and watch my video FASS in Action about my flavor adjusting technique, FASS (short for Fat, Acid, Salt and Sweet). Learn to play!
  • Knowing flavor prints. You can fly around the world on a magic carpet, turning one flavor profile into another by just the spices you use. Are you in the mood for Asian, Latin, or Mediterranean?
Gobal Flavorprints

Karen says, It’s all been done before—you are not creating tomato sauce from scratch. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You’re just building and adding your mark to it.

What’s your mark going to be?

Are you a zester? I have a friend who puts lemon zest in everything. Her middle name is Lemon Zest. What’s your middle name?

Karen talks about the culinary alchemy. There’s always a little bit of that je ne c’est quois, that somethin’ somethin.’ You allow alchemy to come in when you are confident enough in the kitchen to stray from the recipe.  By all means, stray away!

A good way to go: you’ve got 2-3 recipes you’ve got nailed. You don’t have to look at the recipe anymore. You stray. You get away from the book. You ask, What if….? You start to rely on instinct, trusting your taste buds, not worrying about whether you are going to flub the dish. One day you just automatically reach for the orange or the rosemary… Or you don’t have this in the house so you use that. No cinnamon? What would it taste like with… cardamom? You make room for something new. Inspiration strikes! Wow. I would never have thought of that before. Something new comes out.

The convergence of inspiration and alchemy and trusting yourself.

You get away from the day-to-day grind of getting food on the table. I know SO many home cooks who say I have nothing left. I’ve had to cook for my family for years and years, and just get it out on the table... I get it! But don’t  underestimate the power of inspiration. It can lead to new creativity, success and joy in your kitchen. And inspiration is available with the change of every season. In the dead of winter, you walk into the store… the colors are green, orange, tan and red. The pomegranates catch your eye… you see their gleaming red seeds as a garnish. Or maybe the creativity is in your spices...or you toast some nuts and add them for crunch. Or maybe it is that citrus zest you add to your broccoli that brings it to life.

Be inspired by ingredients.

Consult Kitchen Creativity for autumn and winter and you’ll find:
Nutmeg and nuts and radishes.
Slow-cooked dishes.
Warming spices.
Yams, vinegar, walnuts. Turmeric!

Don’t you just start tasting, smelling, savoring?
Here are my ingredients...what can I do with them?

Beyond Recipes: Cauliflower

You see white, purple and orange cauliflower in the store. What might you do with them?

Break into florets.
Roast at 450 degrees.
Check at 15 minutes.

Plus: olive oil + salt + turmeric + parsley garnish.

Plus: olive oil + chopped kalamata olives + garlic + salt + pepper + lemon zest + chopped mint garnish.

Plus: olive oil + cumin + lime juice + chopped cilantro garnish.

Kitchen Creativity

Whatever page you turn to, you will find something wonderful. You don’t have to read methodically, cover to cover; though for the serious cookbook lover, this is a fabulous book to keep on your bedside table, read and savor!

This is a brilliant book.