…it’s not actually all about food all of the time.
As a recipe developer I’m often asked where I get my inspiration, how I get ideas.
Although there are books and online resources well worth checking out if you’re an aspiring recipe developer or food writer, much of being creative in the kitchen isn’t learned from a book. It comes not only from the many food experiences you’ve had and conversations about meal challenges for consumers but also simply from within you. The more you allow yourself the freedom to be creative, the more readily the ideas will rise to the surface. We all have ideas. Some flow freely, some get stuck behind fear or intimidation. Some days we’re a wealth of creativity. Other days we struggle to come up with a single original thought. Artists and musicians often say their best work came after surviving their darkest or most challenging times.
Reading food magazines and blogs is a wonderful way to be inspired with gorgeous food photos and recipes. (If ever taking inspiration from an existing recipe, crediting the source is respectable, professional practice.) Over and above that, the more you take any opportunity to exercise your ‘creative muscles’ the better. Look for situations that allow your brain to wander in new directions. People often say they get their best ideas or make their most important decisions while on vacation, when their brain is relaxed. Not surprising. Unplugging is an important creativity booster. That has been a key for me.
Playing charades or improv games also encourages creativity. Balderdash is a board game in which you have to make up a definition for a real, but unfamiliar word, and then try to convince the other players that your definition is the correct one. I recently gave a group of foodies – dietitians, Home Ec teachers and farmers – the task of defining a few lesser known culinary terms. If they didn’t know the correct term, they were encouraged to make up any definition they like. One of the words was “muddler” – in the culinary world it’s a tool used by a bartender to mash fruits, spices or fresh herbs to release their flavour, such as mint leaves in a mojito. At our session, alternate definitions ranged from “when your non-cook spouse tries to make dinner” to “a beer snatcher”. A “fool”, culinary, is an English dessert in which fruit is made into a custard. Those in the group unfamiliar with the term came up with answers like “a Gr 9 Home Ec student who lies on the floor of the kitchen during class” and “a close-minded person”. Not being a test, participants were encouraged not to care or worry if they didn’t know the correct term but instead to have fun, participate and exercise their creativity in the process of coming up with a definition, real or not.
Another creativity-enhancing exercise they participated in was to draw a masterpiece from a scribble. This is an actual thing. You can google ‘make a drawing from a scribble’ from which you go on to create your own original drawing. We often do this to help pass the time when waiting during travel or appointments. It’s always good for a few laughs. And laughs always seem to release creative energy and ideas. In the exercise, 75 people were given the same scribble as pictured above on the top left. Some immediately started drawing. Some turned the page upside-down and sideways first. Some thought about it for quite a while perhaps wondering what I was up to with this. Each one of them interpreted it differently. Some very simply, some more elaborately as the examples demonstrate. All jumped in with this unfamiliar task and took the opportunity to create and think outside the box. None of the drawings were “right” or “wrong”. With this, the word definition exercise, and a couple other tasks, my goal was to send them off inspired to explore and experiment with their own original ideas in the kitchen.
I’ve had the opportunity to create hundreds of healthy recipes for clients ranging from a supermarket chain and food companies like Kraft to commodity groups like BC Cranberries and BC Tree Fruits – even a few recipes that appear on canned goods and food packaging. My best ideas have come after immersion in creativity-enhancing situations, culinary-related or not. And, from summer vacation where I’m soon headed.
To continue creating your own culinary masterpieces, I encourage wholeheartedly and fearlessly jumping into any and all creative opportunities you come across. Laugh a lot and free yourself knowing there is no right or wrong way to do it.