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Culinary Art In Your Backyard

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    Culinary Art In Your Backyard

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    "You must first master your craft before you can become an artist." Meathead

    Ask an art critic or historian to name the fine arts and they will rattle off the usual suspects -- painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, design, architecture, music, dance, theatre, film, literature, poetry, textiles, new media, and conceptual art. Few will mention the culinary arts.

    "To eat a great meal is to experience profound bursts of the ecstatic. Any arts reviewer worth reading will tell you that you can also feel the sudden presence of a deity at a concert or a play, and that God can vanish as suddenly as she arrives. But when you eat, you hold the baton in your own hand. If the right tastes hit your buds, your world can, for a moment, explode with overwhelming sensation." Chris Jones, theatre critic at the Chicago Tribune

    Perhaps this is because job one of the culinary arts is physical nourishment. Perhaps it is because food has such a short lifespan. But culinary art deserves the same respect as the other arts, and cooking with fire and smoke is an important branch of the culinary arts.

    Let’s not forget that, unlike any other art form, culinary art uses all of the senses. While the average time in front of a painting or sculpture in a museum or gallery is about 10 seconds, we can linger over a meal for hours and the memory can last a lifetime. In fact tastes can transport us through time. And like other art forms, culinary art can stir emotions.

    "All cooking that aims higher than a boiled egg is an attempt to make an art of a necessity. In this sense it is surely the first art that human beings ever attempted. And it's still the most universal." Jonathan Jones, art critic for The Guardian

    Culinary art is most like music, dance, or theatre because it progresses with time through your senses, sound, smell, taste, texture, in the same way a concert or a ballet or a play progresses with time. They are all temporal media. Think of how some tastes and flavors come on strong at the outset while others build, like hot peppers. First bite: "I can handle this" 5 seconds later "Oh my, it is starting to heat up in there "5 seconds later "Yeowwwwww!" Chef Grant Achatz or Alinea in Chicago, called by many the best restaurant in the US, says "Time is an ingredient in my food."

    Food is the theme of a great deal of music, especially jazz. Some of my faves are "Everybody Eats When They Come to My House" by Cab Callaway, "Food Glorious Food" from the musical Oliver by Lionel Bart, "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" by Billy Joel, "Chocolate" by the Chenille Sisters, "Cheeseburger in Paradise" by Jimmy Buffet, .”Miss Otis Regrets She is Unable to Lunch Today” by Ella Fitzgerald, "Jambalaya" by Hank Williams, "Recipe For Love" by Harry Connick, Jr., and the beat goes on. Have I given away my age yet?

    By the way, much of the music about food is really about sex such as "Struttin With Some Barbecue" by Louis and Lil Armstrong, "All that Meat and No Potatoes" by Fats Waller, "Beans and Cornbread" by Louis Jordan, "Closer to the Bone The Sweeter is the Meat" by Louis Prima, and "Burger Man" by ZZ Top.

    Here’s a novel crossover, in 2018 the composer Tod Machover wrote the symphony "Philadelphia Voices" and it features a "Cheesesteak Interlude" with sounds recorded at Pat’s King of Steaks, one of many local joints famous for Philly Cheesesteak. It was performed at Carnegie Hall.

    Culinary art is like sculpture in that it is three dimensional and painting in that it uses many of the same elements, especially color, line, and shape. Perhaps this is why so many great artists painted food: Arcimboldo, Bruegel, Cezanne, Dali, da Vinci, Hopper, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Rockwell, Thiebaud, VanGogh, Warhol, and this favorite of mine from 1960 by Archibald Motley titled "Barbecue".

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    Food is the theme of many movies: Babette’s Feast, Like Water For Chocolate, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Big Night, Julie & Julia, Christmas in Connecticut, Fried Green Tomatoes,Mystic Pizza, Ratatouille, Soul Food, Tampopo, Tortilla Soup, Volver, Who is Killing The Great Chefs of Europe, and many others.

    Food is also the theme of scores of books and it plays pivotal roles in hundreds more. We can start with Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, Dickens’ Christmas Carol climaxes over a goose and a feast, there are many meal scenes in Shakespeare, the Bond books revel in elegant food and drink (shaken not stirred), there’s Melville’s ecstasy over a bowl of clam chowder in Moby Dick, Proust on madeleines in “Swan’s Way, Virginia Woolf on beef daube from To the Lighthouse, and countless others.

    Culinary art can alter our mental state. It can evoke memories. It can create happiness. But rarely does it provoke sadness as some art does (Picasso’s painting Guernica), anger (Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita), ugliness (Ivan Albright’s Picture of Dorian Gray), outrage (Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan), or disgust (Peter Greenaway’s movie The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover). A meal can leave the diner deliriously happy with all our senses tingling, memories flowing. Not many other art forms can do that.

    Why? Because food is not just to nourish the body, but cooking can nourish the soul and food can nurture our friends and family. Cooking is play, it is exploration, it is experimentation, and it is art.


    "Skill without creativity is craftsmanship and produces most everything in the mall food court. Creativity without skill produces failure. Creativity with skill produces inspiration, gratitude, and love." Meathead

    The definition of art is really very simple if you don’t confuse the definition of artwith the definition of good art. We need to separate the objective from the subjective.

    Art is the creative expression of an artist. It’s that simple. When a practitioner of the culinary arts says she is an artist, we cannot contest her statement.

    In 1973 I was at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago and the first graduate student in the world working on a Master’s degree in the world’s first Art and Technology Department, a program offered at almost all art schools nowadays. I was experimenting with holograms, computers, photocopiers, telecopiers, electrographics, and printing presses. Sonia Landy Sheridan was the first professor in the field and the work that she and I and her small band of acolytes were doing was cutting edge, and the painters and sculptors in the building told us it just wasn’t art.

    Shocking as it may sound, my machines kept breaking. It took forever to get them to do what I wanted so I would often work late into the night. When I got out of the lab I would head to a nearby greasy spoon under the elevated train where I could sit at the counter right in front of the flattop griddle where Jorge, the grizzled old cook, prepared everything on the menu. I watched him work, fascinated by how he moved. When he did a burger, it was always the same precise sequence of maneuvers, carefully choreographed to be the most efficient technique. He moved gracefully from his station in front of the griddle to the fridge to the blender to the chopping block. He formed the patties with a precise number of pats, he diced the onions rapidly and the knife played a melody on the cutting board. He was brilliant.

    His smoothness and finesse convinced me he had once been a dancer and I was certain he still was. One day I asked him "do you ever think of yourself as a dancer?" He stared right at me for a moment and I couldn’t tell if he was going to laugh at me or if he thought he had finally been discovered by a talent scout.

    "I’m a cook and I have been for 20 years," he snapped. "Damn proud of it, too." He turned his back to me and went back to the double cheeseburger he was making. I imagined him muttering something about kooky artists.

    But what if he had said "Hell yeah, I’m a dancer"? Who could have argued that he was not? Who could have said what I had witnessed was not art?

    It is the artist, not the viewer, who determines what is art, a fact proven once and for all by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). Duchamp was a pioneer of the Dada movement, whose followers, according to the New York’s Museum of Modern Art, "questioned long-held assumptions about what art should be, and how it should be made." Duchamp was an accomplished painter in Paris prior to WWI, but he abandoned the medium saying "I was interested in ideas"not merely in visual products.”

    Considered one of the most important artists of all time, he shook the art world by collecting found objects and dubbing them "Readymade Art" simply because he was an artist and he curated it. Among his most famous Readymades was a urinal. After Duchamp, art was never the same. He was the Galileo of the art world.

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    So let’s say it again, when a practitioner of the culinary arts says she is an artist, we cannot contest her statement. And if you want to go for it and call yourself an artist, nobody can stop you.

    The one thing that most arts have in common is that artists try to elicit an emotion. Any emotion. So art does not have to be beautiful or uplifting or even high quality. Some great art is quite ugly and disturbing. There’s not much beauty in Stanley Kubrick’s movie Clockwork Orange, the firing squad in Goya’s painting The Third of May 1808,most of Captain Beefheart’s music, or Andres Serrano’s sculpture Piss Christ. But it is not hard to argue that they are all important works of art. So that begs the question, what is good art?

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    SIDEBAR: The Legal Definition Of Art

    In the US there is no definition of art or artist in federal law. Neither the Copyright Act, the Visual Artists Rights Act, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) attempts to define an art or artist.

    After NEA grants had been awarded to artists whose work offended members of Congress, in 1990 it passed a law that required the NEA to consider "general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public," known as the decency test. In 1998 a challenge made it to the Supreme Court. National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley was brought by four artists including Karen Finley. Finley’s best known work at the time was a performance piece in which she would cover her nude body with chocolate to symbolize exploitation of women. Plaintiffs argued the decency test was unconstitutional and violated their rights of free speech. They lost 8 to 1. The court ruled that the NEA granting panel represented diverse points of view and the risk of an arbitrary ruling of indecency was minimal. So there you have it. If your creation involves nudity and chocolate you can still call it art, but don’t apply for a federal grant.


    Quality is another question altogether. One can get a PhD in aesthetics studying just that question.

    While still in school, one of my fellow grad students, a sculptor, had a piece in a group show at a feminist gallery. It was a nude female on her hands and knees, meant to be a commentary on female submissiveness. About a month later it was stolen from her studio and about a month after that police found it in the living room of a drug den. The thief had attached a sheet of glass to her back. She was now a coffee table. So which was she? A work of art commenting on a social condition or a place to rest your loafers while watching TV?

    A few years after I graduated I bumped into her at a gallery opening and much to my surprise, there was the crawling woman with the glass top still attached. But in this context, she was a now a commentary on woman as furniture. There was one major change from when I saw her last. She had a $10,000 price tag and it had "SOLD" written on it. What justified the price, and what justifies the price of some restaurant food?

    The answer is simple, price is determined by supply and demand. Its value is whatever somebody is willing to pay. It often has nothing to do with quality. What are the standards for quality? Is it the number on the price tag? Is it the cost of the raw materials used? Is it your emotional connection? Is it timelessness? Is it trendiness? Is it originality? Is it backstory? Is it craftsmanship? Is it adherence to technical rules? Is it the breaking of rules? Is it popularity? Is it profundity? Is it the reputation of the artist? Is it a connection to the history of art? Is it anointed by an expert? Is it the price?

    The critic Clement Greenberg proclaimed "Jackson [Pollack] was the greatest painter this country had produced” but most people who see his work see only scribbly lines and drips of paint. One can stand in front of a Pollack for a long time and mentally retrace his steps around the large canvas laying on his studio floor. And if you do you will almost certainly hear "my three year old can do that" from other viewers.

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    What they miss is that Pollack’s work is special in many ways. It was in tune with works of his contemporaries, a movement called abstract expressionism, which grew out of art that came before him, from Dada and surrealism which grew out of cubism and futurism, which grew out of fauvism which grew out of post-impressionism and impressionism. It also grew out of sand painting by American Indians and dance. He had total control of his materials, the thickness of his paints, the relationships of colors, lines, shapes. In other words, he was a master of his craft.

    Art, like science, progresses. So does culinary art. It is always moving forward, pushed to new frontiers by experimenters who know art history and stand on the shoulders of those who came before. And that is just what modern chefs do. They work with new exotic ingredients from faraway lands, they experiment with techniques from other cultures, they modify ingredients, they use their understanding of science, and the results can be as disorienting as a Pollack painting.
    The French Chef Marie-Antonin Carême was perhaps the first to publicly label cooking an art in his five volume L'Art de la Cuisine Françaisepublished in 1834. Carême worked as a chef for Napoléon Bonaparte and the diplomat Talleyrand. He refined French cuisine by focusing on fresh herbs, fresh vegetables, and is credited with classifying all sauces as based on four Mother Sauces.

    When I talk to people about modernist cuisine, food that is cutting edge, it is difficult for many people to comprehend. I often hear complaints that it is pretentious, precious, esoteric, expensive. The same complaints I hear about contemporary art. What they fail to understand is that it is more than food. It is culinary art. A meal at a great restaurant is like walking into an art gallery. It is helpful to view it as art first and meal second. This is hard for many people.

    This is where a lot of barbecue lovers, food critics, and judges go astray. Sadly, when judging barbecue, they allow no room for creativity. Competition judges hold a standard in their heads and compare all the samples to that hidebound benchmark. Yet creativity is prized in all other art forms. That’s because barbecue judges are asked to be objective and then asked if the samples they taste are good or bad. Alas, humans cannot be objective when judging something. Judging is, by its nature, purely subjective. Food competitions should ask judges simply if they like what they taste or not on a "hedonic" scale of 1 to 10. When they ask for objectivity they go astray.

    This, of course, causes problems with aestheticians who believe that quality can be objective. Nothing hacks them off more than someone who says "I don’t know much about art but I know what I like." Clearly you can’t ask someone who is inexperienced to judge food or any other art form. Perspective is important. People who have never been to an art museum or picked up a brush might prefer Dogs Playing Cards to Van Gogh.

    Then again, brilliance often makes itself obvious even to the novice. I’ll never forget watching Franz Klammer in the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Olympics. I had never been on skis, but I remember scooting to the edge of my chair and gasping for air as he came down the mountain. His brilliance was obvious even to the uninitiated.

    In 1992, the conceptual artist Rirkrit Tiravanija opened an exhibition called "Untitled (Free)" at 303 Gallery in New York City. For the show he turned a gallery into a kitchen and served Thai Curry with Rice and served it to the public for free. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) considered it to be a "landmark piece" and recreated it in 2011. MOMA’s Rebecca Stokes said "In this deceptively simple conceptual piece, the artist invites the visitor to interact with contemporary art in a more sociable way and blurs the distance between artist and viewer. You aren’t looking at the art, but are part of it"and are, in fact, making the art as you eat curry and talk with friends or new acquaintances.” Exactly!


    "There should be no rules in the kitchen or bedroom" Meathead

    First we must master the craft. Craft is what apprentices must learn before they can become artists. They must learn how to prep the canvas, which brush to select, how to hold it, which colors to load onto the palette, how they blend, perspective, and all the elements of art and design I discuss in the section on plating food on page ???.

    For an example, let’s look at Picasso. Many people are puzzled by the abstract work for which he is best known, but his early work shows he was a master of his craft, capable of refined realism. Look at this lithograph of bulls from 1945. He begins on the left with a fairly realistic representation of a bull and progresses to the simplified essence of a bull on the right, from realism to minimalism. If you ever wondered what abstract art was all about, the answer is right here. Whether you get Picasso or not, he was first a master of the craft, then a great artist. He knew what he was doing.

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    In cooking, apprentices must learn how to select meats, fruits, and vegetables, how to peel and chop, how to make a stock, an omelet, how to fry, how to braise, how to grill, and how to smoke. Mastering the craft is to learn the rules and gain the skills that allow you to bend and break the rules and ascend to excellence. All great chefs begin by learning the basics and doing simple things.


    "Art is either plagiarism or revolution." Paul Gauguin

    Barbecue and grilling can use some artistry. Drive around the country and, despite some regional variations, barbecue restaurants and steakhouses feel like franchises. The food they churn out is delicious, but there is a boring sameness. For most of them barbecue remains traditional and the ultimate American peasant food. When I travel, the people I hook up with all ask me where I want to eat and my answer is "anything but barbecue." Been there done that, got stains on all my shirts.
    Judge a barbecue competition and the entries all look and taste pretty similar. Yes, most of them taste fantastic, but the taste profile is pretty compact and the scores reflect it. On the popular 1 through 9 scoring system most entries score 7, 8, or 9. Most of the cooks use practically the same techniques, spices, and sauces. Gawd help you if you entered ribs smoked with dried herbs and finished with a hoisin-based sauce sprinkled with orange zest.

    "Authenticity? When I’m in Italy I want to taste real Italian food. But I’m in America, a melting pot of culture, so I think there is nothing wrong with melting some cuisines together." Wolfgang Puck

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    But that sort of originality is what makes a chef a culinary artist. That sort of innovation turns me on when I am cooking and when I am eating. There are a handful, only a handful, of pitmasters who have dared to break out of the mold. One is Bill Durney of Hometown Bar-B-Que in Redhook, NY. There is always something off the hook marvelous on the menu: Jerk Ribs, Fried Korean Ribs, Lamb Belly Banh Mi, Oaxacan-Style Tacos, and Vietnamese Wings are typical. And they are killer good. The traditionalists whine that it is not barbecue.

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    Another is Heirloom Market BBQ in Atlanta. Cody Taylor is a good ole boy from Knoxville and East Texas and his wife Jiyeon Lee is from Korea. They met in culinary school. Talk about fusion: They inject brisket with miso! They glaze ribs with gochujung chile paste! There’s kimchi slaw for the spicy pulled pork! The traditionalists whine "this is not barbecue."

    Jimmy Bannos of "The Purple Pig" in Chicago is producing flavors and combinations of novel ingredients woven together by flame and smoke to raves by mainstream restaurant critics if not the barbecue puristas. A typical menu might contain lamb ribs cooked sous vide and then smoked and then grilled with a Middle Easter spice blend. And grilled broccoli with an anchovy vinaigrette with roasted garlic and toasted breadcrumbs (so good we have a similar recipe on page ???). The traditionalists whine "this is not barbecue."

    Of course it is barbecue. Durney, Taylor, Lee, Bannos, and Brigit and I folks are just pushing it in a new direction. Cooking is like jazz. You hear a lick and you take off with it.

    I hate to tell you this, but in recent years the barbecue world has grown a substantial population of snobs who are as insufferable as wine snobs. I do not make the comparison lightly. I spent 18 years in the wine world, many of them as the syndicated wine critic for the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, AOL in its heyday, and as an instructor at Cornell University. Most wine lovers are down to earth, but there are plenty of them who will fire both barrels at you if you serve your reds too cold, too warm, too young, without sufficient breathing time, or from a screwcap bottle. Me? Serve me anything and I will enjoy it with a smile. The difference between a wino and a connoisseur? $20 a bottle.

    Likewise, barbecue snobs oppress their neighbors when they are invited over for a barbecue and it turns out to be hamburgers and hot dogs, not brisket. "This is not barbecue." Then there are the charcoal snobs who put down people cooking on gas grills with "you might as well be cooking indoors." When I post a recipe for sous-vide-que the troglodytes scream "never boil ribs" and if I inject a brisket with beef broth they have a conniption.

    "Unless you invented fire you didn’t invent barbecue and you don’t own it." Carey Bringle, Peg Leg Porker, Nashville, TN

    Let’s take a deep breath and shred a few of their shibboleths and set ourselves free, because the recipes herein are barbecue freedom on a plate.

    The snobs love to say there is a big difference between barbecue and grilling. When asked they usually explain that grilling is high temp cooking. But what is high temp? Anything over 225°F? Over 300°F? So 299°F is barbecue and 301°F is grilling? You tell Myron Mixon and the scores of other champions who cook their briskets at 325°F or higher that it isn’t barbecue. Instead of talking about the differences between "grilling" and "barbecue", they should be talking about the differences between "indirect convection heat cooking" and "direct radiant heat cooking". Kinda boring but far more accurate. Keep reading and we will get there.

    They say that real barbecue can’t be made with gas or a pellet smoker. I’m here to tell you that the vast majority of the best BBQ restaurants have big machines that burn gas for heat and wood for flavor. Their food can be freakin’ awesome. I’ll tell you what’s traditional: Digging a hole in the ground, filling it with logs, burning them down to embers, covering the hole with a grid of green saplings, and throwing a whole animal on them. Definitely not the steel tubes that they cook on. I am sure that when the first steel pits were introduced knuckle draggers whined "this is not barbecue."

    They say true barbecue is an American invention so Chinese restaurant barbecue isn’t real barbecue because it is rarely smoked. Hello! They’ve been doing this in China with and without smoke long before humans set forth in North America. And at the time of this writing, the most avid BBQ fanatics are the ones who enter competitions, and most of them poach or braise their chicken thighs in aluminum pans with margarine and barbecue sauce, and they wrap their pork ribs, pork butts, and beef briskets in aluminum foil braising them for much of their cook. These creative techniques create wonderful food, but are clearly not traditional barbecue.

    "Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep." Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert

    They think barbecue was invented in the US. But homo erectuswas probably the first of our ancestors to discover cooking in Africa, and for sure he didn’t use Weber smokers. Chef David Chang of Momofuku and many other superb restaurants said on his Netflix series "Ugly Delicious" that "It’s not that I hate authenticity, it’s that I hate that people want this singular thing that is authentic." Amen brother!


    The fact is, barbecue is a biiiiig word that was first used by Caribbean natives to describe an elevated wooden rack that was used as a bed, to store grains, and to cook lizards, fish, birds, and even dogs. Here’s one at the de Soto National Memorial in Bradenton, FL near the spot where Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto came ashore in 1539.

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    Actually, we don’t know for sure what word they used, but Spanish explorers first put the word in print when they got home and called the rack a barbacoa. Maybe that was the Taino Indian word, but it sure sounds Spanish to me.

    The word barbecue is used around the world and covers a vast range of cooking techniques. When the snobs pontificate about true barbecue, what they are really discussing is Southern barbecue, one of the many styles of barbecue that includes grilling, Korean barbecue, Santa Maria Barbecue, Indian tandoori, Japanese Yakiniku, and competition barbecue, which has evolved pretty far from traditional Southern barbecue.

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    And that’s not bad! Some of the techniques used by competitors seeking a teeny edge that might put them in the money are pretty clever. Then the purists whine again about cultural appropriation complaining that innovations like the ones in this book are violations of an American tradition. Let’s not forget that one of the greatest American traditions is the melting pot and innovation.


    Where do culinary artists find inspiration? Some are just imaginative and inventive, but most get inspiration from something they have tasted. One of my favorite trendsetters, Chef Paul Virant of two restaurants in Chicago’s western suburbs, Vie and Vistro, was heavily influenced by the cooking of his two grandmothers, both of whom were into pickling, so acidity is a major theme in his cooking. He even wrote a book, "The Preservation Kitchen", the best I have ever seen on the subject of canning, pickling, and preserving.

    My friend, Dorie Greenspan, New York Timesfood writer and award winning cookbook author, said "I baked my way through several books, but my bible was Lenôtre’s Desserts and Pastriesby Gaston Lenôtre… But what I really wanted to learn was how to use these tools to build my own creations. Then, as now, a fruit, a fragrance, a combination of flavors or a new texture could set me dreaming about a new sweet. I wanted to know how to make desserts from the inspirations I found around me."

    "I got the idea because I was tired of seeing stems in the trash." Chef Charlie Trotter

    Many culinary artists start out with an old favorite like grilled cheese and play with it, experimenting with different breads and cheeses and add-ins. I get my best ideas when I dine out. I often ask myself, can I make this recipe on the grill or smoker and can I make it better?

    Getting on an airplane is a great way to shake up your sensibilities. Perry Hendrix, Chef de Cuisine at Avec in Chicago carries a small notebook for ideas. Others use their phones and dictate memos. Most chefs are constantly looking at magazines and cookbooks for ideas. I have even had recipes come to me in dreams.

    Chefs like Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, named four times the world’s greatest restaurant, makes provocative food by deconstructing it, breaking it down to its parts and serving them side by side. Serendipity also plays a role. One of his most popular desserts came about when an assistant dropped a beautiful lemon tart. He liked the visual pattern of bright lemon splatter, and took another, smashed it, and a hit was born.

    It is all about process, and the process a cook goes through is similar to the process a painter, writer, choreographer, composer goes through. You start with intuition, develop a plan, experiment, fail, revise, and repeat. Sometimes plans go out the window so you have to be open to accidents. You make a sauce for the protein but it works better on the veg. Dumb luck. And you will fail. I hope this book will help you succeed, but be prepared for your experiments to fail. You will increase your batting average as you practice.

    "I have not failed. I have found 10,000 ways that won’t work." Thomas Alva Edison, 1,093 US patents

    Some are influenced by the other arts. Painters look at dance and sculpture. Musicians go to plays. And chefs hang art on their walls and visit museums. The creativity of others, the breakthroughs of others, is a source of inspiration.

    It helps to have someone to brainstorm with. A lot of chefs have creative team meetings. To create the recipes in this book, my friend Brigit Binns and I talked on the phone for two hours, three days a week, every week, for months. A typical conversation might sound like this. MH: "Ok, today let’s work on pork." BB: "How about ham? Is there something fun we can do with it?" "You mean a smoked and cured ham?" "Yeah, let’s give it a fresh layer of smoke." "How about we start with a smoked ham steak and smoke it again?" "That sounds tasty. Why don’t we then chop it up and mix it with grilled veggies and serve it like a stir-fry." "I like that. Want to take it over the top and then toss them into a cast iron pan with some bacon fat to make it crispy?" "LOVE crispy! LOVE bacon fat!" "Can we throw in some taters and make a hash of it?" "Oooooo, that sounds wonderful. And easy." "Should we go decadent and add truffles?" "No let’s stick with things folks can find in a normal grocery." "Right. I don’t know what came over me." Then one of us wrote the concept up as a formal recipe, working out the details. The other would look at the draft recipe and offer modifications. Then one of us would test cook it and make further mods. Then the other would test cook it. Then I would cook it one last time, often on a different type of cooker, and photograph the outcome. The result is Twice Smoked Ham Hash on page ????

    "A lot of people have a fantasy about creativity " that you sit around and wait for the stars to align and the barometric pressure to be correct. I think it’s the other way around: You get yourself into a position to receive some inspiration by doing the work. You focus on the process.” Jeff Tweedy, Wilco frontman

    But cooking can be like jazz, you can start with a theme, like Caprese Salad, and riff on it. The traditional Italian version is made with really fresh tomato slices, fresh basil leaves, fresh mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil, and coarse salt. Period. If you grill the tomatoes, or drizzle balsamic vinegar on it, or grind on some black pepper, or throw in some thin red onion slices, or heaven forbid capers, the Caprese police will descend on you (I speak from experience). And if the mood takes you and you do all of the above, no matter how wonderful the result (and it is wonderful), you had better not use the word Caprese anywhere near the title or be prepared to be pilloried. But the taste is worth it!

    The odd thing is, if I am a pianist and I play an up-tempo version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, nobody will come running down the aisle screaming that I have broken the law. Food snobs are plentiful and damnable.

    Trends and ingredients go through phases from unknown to ubiquitous. Ten years ago, did you ever see Sriracha on a menu? Had you ever heard of brining a turkey, spatchcocking, or sous vide? Usually these trends start with an ingenious chef adding something delicious and unusual to the menu. Let’s call this the incubation phase. They then get spread around to other restaurants, often with new creative input, influenced by fashions and health fads. Let’s call this the early adoption phase. It may get picked up by a big food distributor like US Foods or Sysco. Let’s call this the proliferation phase. The concept may become commonplace and long-lived, or it may dwindle and go through the passe phase. When is the last time you did fondue? It was all the rage in the 1970s.

    I’d like you to learn how to cook without a cookbook. Cooking from a recipe is like a pianist playing from a composer’s score. After the last note, take a few bows and bask in the glory. But when you cook without a recipe, you are both the pianist and the composer.

    The problem with creativity is that its child is failure. You will ruin dinner every now and then so make sure to keep the phone numbers of nearby pizza joints handy. But you will increase your rate of success if you follow the three Ps: Practice, Patience, Persistence. Your ideas have potential or you wouldn’t have the guts to try. So keep at it. There is elation from creation.
    Attached Files

    Love these sneak peeks. Can't wait for the whole book.


      I found this spot on and fascinating. I spent some time at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before getting a minor in Art and Art History from U of I. I've often likened my abilities to cook as an art form because it is one. It invokes the same drive for perfection, the same sense of creativity, and most importantly the need for recognition all of which are as necessary to produce a good intaglio print. "How was it, did you like the aftertaste, was the skin crunchy enough, why did you leave some on your plate" are all thoughts and questions I have after spending 6 hours preparing a meal. The creative juices demand the perfect doneness of the pork chop, the new and different paring of the sides, the stuffing that amps up the otherwise bland meat, etc., are all part of the experience of cooking and thus an artform.

      You express very well what I know to be true, for those of us that love to cook, not just to eat or sustain our bodies, it's a passion that needs recognition. And when it works and works well, it feels exactly like the first time I won an award at an art show for an acrylic painting I thought would never even be recognized. It wasn't the creative effort as much as the recognition, but both were necessary to evoke the drive and passion for more.

      Thanks again for your thoughts and your spot on analysis of food and art. And when you said, "It helps to have someone to brainstorm with" I thought immediately of the Pit and some of the fabulous cooks who eagerly look to share their thoughts and cooking techniques. It makes us all better food artists !!!

      Oh yea, and I laughed at the old wine joke, "The difference between a wino and a connoisseur? $20 a bottle." Hadn't heard that one in a long time !!


      • Troutman
        Troutman commented
        Editing a comment
        Well let’s just leave it at something like ...”the spice of life”

      • DavisBarbecue
        DavisBarbecue commented
        Editing a comment
        Female Art majors are... a work of Art by the Creator!

      • Cheef
        Cheef commented
        Editing a comment
        Well I'm old but we used to call them EASY?

      That was really inspiring encouraging and all the other ....ing I cant think of at the moment.


        Very well composed and written- linking outlier factions under the "creativity" umbrella.


          I for one am down with this kind of thing.


            One of my favorite movies featuring food is Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman (1994). Here is a brief clip of the opening scenes from the movie. Notice the Chef's version of a Pit Barrel Cooker hanging the duck for the smoke! His knife skills are phenomenal, using only a pair
            of cleavers (with dozens of other knives on the wall behind him).

            Watch this 6 minute clip, then watch the entire movie. It's my favorite Ang Lee movie.



            • fzxdoc
              fzxdoc commented
              Editing a comment
              Astounding. A pleasure to watch.


            • troymeister
              troymeister commented
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              That was cool!!...I hav never heard of this movie...I'll check out soon.

            • klflowers
              klflowers commented
              Editing a comment
              Was that a PBC? HawkerXP? Never heard of this film; I'll be watching it soon.

            I missed this this when it was first posted, but I am glad it resurfaced. Great take on BBQ and food in general.


              This is fantastic. Just so long as we can all agree that Texas BBQ is superior to NC or KC BBQ, I think you're dead on :-)


              • ofelles
                ofelles commented
                Editing a comment
                Just your second post and you're stirring it up? wow! 🙂

              • Meathead
                Meathead commented
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                LOL! Don't let them intimidate you!

              I am a visual artist, and I enjoyed what you wrote, and look forward to buying your next book when it comes out. I don’t go around looking for typos (I am not qualify for that, and my wife is always correcting my writing, or things I say), but Jackson Pollock is the correct spelling, not Pollack. Loved hearing about your art background. I too went to the Art institute of Chicago.


              • Meathead
                Meathead commented
                Editing a comment
                Nice catch! I'll fix the manuscript! My guess is that you time at SAIC came well after mine. Are you a practicing artist?

              I am a practicing artist. But my salary comes from teaching it a community college.


                I too am glad this resurfaced, hadn't seen it before. There's a WHOLE LOT to unpack there, rich with insight.

                A couple thoughts of way too many to choose from; The Jeff Tweedy quote reminds me of a favorite comment: Luck occurs when preparation and opportunity converge. On the notion of recipes and outcomes, most people can relate to the experience that even though they follow grandma's recipe to the letter, somehow the result never tastes as good.


                  Very well written. As others have stated, a lot to digest.

                  The opening quote reminded me of the movie Mystery Men for some reason. Great movie IMO.

                  "You must first master your craft before you can become an artist." Meathead

                  "You must first master your craft or your craft will master you". - The Sphinx
                  Last edited by JP7794; August 6, 2020, 02:30 PM.


                  • bbqLuv
                    bbqLuv commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Green Bay Packer Brisket
                    They are pretty good.


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