The Synthesizing Mind, or Why I Like Cooking

One of my earliest postings on this blog referenced Howard Gardner’s “Disciplined Mind.” I continue to use his “Five Minds for the Future” as a framework for teaching arts entrepreneurship. Recently, I have become particularly interested in “The Synthesizing Mind.” Gardner writes that the synthesizing mind is characterized by “the ability to knot together information from many different places into a coherent whole.” Synthesizing is a “connect-the-dots” form of creative action that many entrepreneurship theorists point to as well. Gardner creates a taxonomy of outputs of the synthesizing mind:

  • narratives
  • taxonomies
  • complex concepts
  • rules and aphorisms
  • powerful metaphors, images, and themes
  • embodiments without words
  • theories
  • metatheory

To this, I add: menus. Yes, the kind that includes groupings of dishes, designed to be eaten separately but that work well together as a meal, with a specific audience in mind, at a specific place and time. As noted in another early post, I am frequently asked in one form or another, “where did your creativity go?” I find the development of a really good menu from fresh local and/or sustainable ingredients to be my most enjoyable form of creative synthesis. Here are two examples:

Example #1: A meal in four bowls (a.k.a. dinner for two, when trying to impress or seduce):

  • Bowl one: Carrot ginger soup
  • Bowl two: Moules marinieres
  • Bowl three: Wild mushroom risotto
  • Bowl four: Homemade chocolate strawberry sorbet
  • Wine

Example #2: Midsummer beat-the-heat buffet:

  • Melon salad : farm fresh melon with Greek yogurt, honey, mint
  • Green salad : strawberry vinaigrette
  • Lobster roll: with bacon and basil aioli on homemade rolls
  • Roasted new potato & red pepper salad: Balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs
  • Homemade rocketpops: Orange cream, strawberry basil, and chocolate chili
  • White sangria (and a lot of it)

A good menu has the hallmarks of a successful creative ventures: it is mindful of resources, fills a need, is designed with a specific audience/market in mind, and offers a return on investment (the return is the satisfaction of my friends and the investment my time and only ¼ the amount of money a similar meal might cost in a restaurant). All in all, a menu can be a very successful creative endeavor, one that exercises my synthesizing mind.

If you’re interested, here are a few links to recipes from the menus above, but some dishes are my own and not written down anywhere. I encourage you to adapt (synthesize!) freely:

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA and principal/owner of Creative Infrastructure LLC. The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of Cal State LA. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix.
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9 Responses to The Synthesizing Mind, or Why I Like Cooking

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  8. Linda, I love this post! The fact that you are connecting Howard Gardner with cooking is in itself a type of synthesis.

  9. John Wheeler says:

    I have also found myself in the kitchen attempting to synthesize with these factors in mind. Being in college, I have found that getting a balance nutrition and price, while also attempting to walk a tight rope between all the palates of my roommates, always tends to create a very interesting meal. I tend to follow my gut when it comes to creating food, as there is evidence that impulsive food choices are often related to an immediate nutritional need. For instance, an impulse for italian may be related to a need for the various nutritional benefits of basil and tomato. It can be difficult to cook for people with varying palates, but the end result is something that everyone can enjoy (with some positive reinforcement to boot), while also injecting heavy nutrition into the group physiology.

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