Kitchen Creativity: Unlocking Culinary Genius—with Wisdom, Inspiration, and Ideas from the World’s Most Creative Chefs by Karen Page, Little, Brown, and Company, US $40.00, Pp 464, October 2017, ISBN 978-0316267809
As food assumes more and more importance, chefs are emerging as the world’s leading creative professionals in the modern world. Some of them have grown to become celebrities – though not like painters and musicians – but celebrities nevertheless. A good chef is a creative genius. In Kitchen Creativity, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg bring together more than one hundred great chefs to let us have an insight into their creative process. Karen Page says that because we assimilate new ideas, they soon become old (passing) or classic (enduring). Part of the secret of being creative is keeping up with what’s new – and combining old and classic elements in a new and useful way. To understand what’s new and what’s useful, you must first learn what’s old and what doesn’t work. Expertise also enables efficiency. You will stand on the shoulders of giants instead of having to rediscover that which others spent centuries figuring out.
Kitchen creativity is a relatively new concept if you consider that we have been cooking for two million years and yet it was just 200 years ago that the world’s greatest chef Auguste Escoffier codified French recipes at the turn of the 19th century. Karen Page says that French chefs faithfully reproduced Escoffier’s classic recipes for a century-and-a-half. They finally started departing from them about 50 years ago. They modified and lightened their dishes in a movement that became known as ‘Nouvelle Cuisine’ or New Cuisine. As a result, there has been more creativity in food in the past 50 years than in any other period in world history.
Up until that point, the classic dishes generally evolved from local ingredients in harmonious combinations that caught the fancy of locals, achieving popularity and becoming part of the culinary canon. In the beginning, Karen Page writes, the role of restaurant critics was initially to judge whether a restaurant’s version of a classic dish was authentic and well-executed or not. American chefs – many of whom had served apprenticeships in France where they were exposed to these “new, radical” ideas — returned to the United States with these “commandments” in mind. The melting pot of America became a hotbed of culinary change.
The culinary world saw innovations in codifications at the turn of the 19th century and in the lightening of cuisine in the 1970s and in the expansion of techniques and presentation since. Today, Karen Page says, we are in the midst of an elevation of goodness, in cuisine, as chefs strive to create the most delicious dishes with the best available ingredients that do the least harm both to sentient beings and to the environment. As our awareness of food and the myriad implications of growing it, cooking it, and consuming it continue to expand, our creativity with food is, in turn, continuing to expand. She says the goal of Kitchen Creativity is to inspire you to tap your uniqueness and start cooking in a way that expresses who you are and allows you to connect with and please others through your food.
Kitchen Creativity is an amazing cookbook that makes the thinking of more than one hundred great chefs accessible to the reader. It opens a window into the mind of each of these chefs and helps us see how they created great dishes. Kitchen Creativity will help you think and create great recipes. It is a kitchen Bible every kitchen should have. It will be invaluable for both professional chefs and home cooks.