Duplicating what somebody else is doing only works for a short time. Without invention, there is no staying power. If you need some inspiration, look to Karen Page’s new book Kitchen Creativity.
Kitchen Creativity: Unlocking Genius – with Wisdom, Inspiration, and Ideas from the World’s Most Creative Chefs explores where creativity is born, how to grow it, and how not to screw it up. Author Karen Page goes deep into the creative process. Getting Rene Redzepi to talk about burnout, Patrick O’Connell to explain role playing (not that role playing) and Heston Blumenthal to uncover inspiration, for example, is a start at understanding what makes notable chefs ooze accomplishment. We can envy them and even resonate jealousy with their ability to stir souls, but there is no denying that they do their jobs well. Page puts together their ideas in a flow that allows us to glean their inspiration.
Karen Page breaks it down
Broken down to three rudimentary, yet equally vital steps to the creative process, Page taps the likes of Curtis Duffy (formerly of Chicago’s Grace), Michael Anthony (NYC’s Gramercy Tavern), and Farmer Lee Jones, among the many, many others. Technical mastery, alchemy, and creativity are the crux of this very prescribed process. Easy? No. What Page does is scratch off the silver-gray coating to reveal the progression.
In the section on alchemy, using fat and fat combinations gets scoped. To start, seeing fat as a richening element rather than just a cooking medium is but one stop in the section. Helping to eschew what we thought we knew about our own creativity, Page formulates fat math by adding other olfactory elements. For instance, fat laced with the sour taste then evokes the corresponding ingredients that follow. She goes on with other tastes and fat. This process continues with aromatics, astringency, and piquancy, among others, throughout the section. Using this new math, the build-up to the creative process becomes more fluid and more approachable. Translation: it gets easier.
This is not a cookbook
Much like The Flavor Bible and Becoming a Chef, this, too, is not a cookbook. Kitchen Creativity is not meant for “Oh, maybe I’ll make muffins this weekend.” This treatise is high-grade fuel for getting cooks back to basics and then hurtling cooking to a different place. There are no recipes. Rather like the whole “You give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime” deal, Kitchen Creativity is a tool to do the work on your own.
The latter half of the book is an A-to-Z glossary of cooking. From Consumer Schizophrenia to Easter, from marijuana to Mardi Gras it covers peculiarities and standards alike. Engaging acumen from Alain Ducasse, Jacques Torres, Rick Bayless, and Travis Lett, and about 100 others, the section is a welcomed refresher on what the hell we are supposed to be doing and why we do it. Dig the Nostalgia Food entry getting a nod from Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi; “Ranch dressing is good on everything.” Heston Blumenthal chimes in about Pop Rocks while Dirt Candy’s Amanda Cohen draws inspiration from Tootsie Rolls.
How do you get from Neuroscience to Yoga to Caesar salad to Michael Voltaggio?
Defining creativity is easy. Analyzing the creative drive is far more complicated. Page taps history, chemical reactions, seasonality, even spirituality, to build the whole notion of culinary imagination. The “Emotional Connotations of Colors” entry would appear trivial—or even silly—if not backed by Page’s exhaustive research that pervades the book. Instead, the detail becomes one more facet we must consider to unleash culinary innovation.
This is not a coffee table book, either
There is no light reading in Kitchen Creativity. The explorations are deeply rooted in seasonality, physiology, sensory response, and technique. Note-taking is strongly recommended. Andrew Dornenburg’s photographs dial into specific ingredients and the people employing them. Additionally, the macro-style images get deep into the look of the food while the kitchen scenery shots remind us that these are real cooks in real kitchens. This focus on professionals keeps Kitchen Creativity on the prep table rather than the coffee table.
Kitchen Creativity: Unlocking Genius – with Wisdom, Inspiration, and Ideas from the World’s Most Creative Chefs Karen Page, Photography by Andrew Dornenburg (Little, Brown and Company, 2017) 427 pages, $40