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Can Cuisine Sometimes be Art?

"Cooking is an art and patience a virtue... Careful shopping, fresh ingredients and an unhurried approach are nearly all you need. There is one more thing - love. Love for food and love for those you invite to your table. With a combination of these things you can be an artist - not perhaps in the representational style of a Dutch master, but rather more like Gauguin, the naïve, or Van Gogh, the impressionist. Plates or pictures of sunshine taste of happiness and love."

In 1932, Marinetti published The Futurist Cookbook. It was not merely a set of recipes; it was a kind of manifesto. He cast food preparation and consumption as part of a new worldview, in which entertaining became avant-garde performance. The book prescribed the necessary elements for a perfect meal. Such dining had to feature originality, harmony, sculptural form, scent, music between courses, a combination of dishes, and variously flavored small canapés. The cook was to employ high-tech equipment to prepare the meal. Politics could not be discussed, and food had to be prepared in such a way that eating it did not require silverware.

Looking back, food has always played a role in art: Stone Age cave painters used vegetable juice and animal fats as binding ingredients in their paints, and the Egyptians carved pictographs of crops and bread on hieroglyphic tablets. During the Renaissance, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, a painter for the Habsburg court in Vienna, and later, for the Royal Court in Prague, painted whimsical puzzle-like portraits in which facial features were composed of fruits, vegetables, and flowers.

Foodstuffs can be made into visual objects which can be considered as works of art, since they are not necessarily intended to be eaten. Sculpture made from butter, sugar, corn and other agricultural products was a common feature at fairs in the later 19th and early 20th century.

This stock photo is from the Fanshawe College Pastry Arts Program, and is an example of high food art in the form of sugar & chocolate sculpture.

At age 86, Jacques Pépin is tired of writing cookbooks. That’s why his next book about chicken won’t be about how to cook it—instead, it will feature a selection of chicken-inspired artworks by the celebrated French chef, who happens to be just as at home behind an easel as he is at a gas range.

“I have over 130 illustrations painting chickens,” Pépin told Artnet News. “They wanted me to do recipes for it, but I said ‘I have 30 books of recipes. I don’t want to do more recipes!'”

When you’re creating your masterpiece, whether on a canvas or in the kitchen, a certain level of creativity will always take it to the next level. When you’re cooking, a recipe might be a good base level for a dish you’re creating at home, but you should always listen to your intuition, too. Want a little more pepper here or a little less basil there? Trust your gut! Prefer your steak a little less done than the recipe suggests? Your individualized tastes and preferences are what matters! When you start working on a recipe, allow yourself a little room for extra creativity to really take your work of art to the next level.

Picasso didn’t step up to his first canvas knowing what to do. He started by learning the “how to paint” basics, then continually adapted, learned, and adjusted based on experience and inspiration across his lifetime! Likewise, cooking at home should be a continual learning process. Learn the basics first - what flavors combine, what techniques work best, what individual ingredients should fit on your plate for a cohesive and nutritious meal? From there, you can continue to adapt and learn as inspiration strikes. Practicing those basics consistently each time you’re in the kitchen will ensure that you’re able to spend more time crafting unique flavors, developing dishes that fit your personal tastes, and creating dishes that your whole family will love.

Cooking is visual

Of course much of the cooking process is incredibly experiential and tactile. You’re moving around the kitchen, testing the food to see if you need more salt, and adjusting recipes based on your preferences. Though just like a painter adding their final signature with flourish, the way you plate your dishes becomes your own act of flair. Mixing colors and textures on the plate, adding a slight drizzle of sauce, or popping a small garnish on top makes even the most simple dish really pop. Cooking can be really pretty!

Cooking should elicit an emotional response

Just like the most grand pieces of art in the museum, the best dishes tell a story. It’s the pasta made with love in a kitchen full of laughter; it’s the cheese board carefully crafted to be enjoyed at the family reunion; it’s the meatloaf grandma used to make that is simply good for the soul. Cooking on a day-to-day basis is good practice, but when there is love and intention put into a dish, it becomes a true masterpiece. Try out those old, family recipes next time you’re in the kitchen and let your palate come to life!

Cheers, and have a great weekend. Get in that kitchen and get inspired!

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