One of my earliest posts on this blog was in response to the question “Hey Linda, where’d your creativity go?” I wrote, “To a little orange room in a repurposed dorm in Tempe, Arizona” where I was creating curriculum for our new arts entrepreneurship classes. I could also have written at that time, and even more so today, “to my kitchen.” Over the course of years, I’ve learned to be a pretty good cook, using John Dewey’s time-tested pedagogic tool, experience. In the kitchen, I try out techniques, recipes, ingredients. Failures are not infrequent, but if you want to make your own fresh mayonnaise, you have to be willing to throw a few batches of un-emulsified goo into the trash.
A few times a year, I make my cooking into something of a food event for friends, colleagues, or, occasionally, a visiting artist. I’ve done a midsummer event for the last couple years and this year was no exception. I decided to make the food, and eventually the whole environment, around the theme of Shakespeare’s play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” As I thought about it, it became more of a production, in the theatrical sense. I did dramaturgical research (for example, what does Egeus mean when he talks about “sweetmeats” in Act I?), developed the “text” (the menu), and a design motif (twinkly lights, blue organza). I gathered images and text to accompany each of the dishesThe twenty or so people who showed up didn’t just have dinner and drinks. I’d like to think they had a meaningful experience. One of my friends wrote to me the next morning:
I LOVED not only the food, but the wonderful theme of the dinner. The quotes were fantastic. I just finished this book called The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. Your dinner, as well as that book have encouraged me to savor food more, pay attention to texture and smell (as well as taste), and give it a try, so I’m dusting off my kitchen utensils. I’m inspired. I am going to try to make some good things.
This was the highest praise I think I have ever received (during a week when there was also a very positive review of my book, Lighting and the Design Idea, in Lighting and Sound America). My event inspired someone, caused them to make connections between other aspects of their life and undergo some kind of change. Hey, that’s what art does!
I am not a professional chef and never will be, but there is an analogy to be drawn here between arts participation and my kitchen-bound creative outlet. Many people achieve creative excellence (or what Abraham Maslow would call self actualization) through “amateur” arts participation: painting in their free time, joining a community chorus, or playing in a garage band. These “amateurs” in their studios, like me in my kitchen, practice, sometimes for years, to achieve a high level of excellence. And, they appreciate the work of professional artists with a level of sophistication non-participants do not posess, just as I appreciate well-prepared food in a multitude of contexts (Phoenix has some of the the yummiest taco stands and the finest haute cuisine and everything in between). By encouraging –even supporting – participation in the arts for all, the entire arts ecosystem can benefit.
APPENDIX: The text and the menu
I, 1: Egeus: Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, messengers. [the nosegays were little bouquets of asparagus wrapped in phyllo dough (this dough was the only pre-prepared food); the sweetmeats are what they would have been, sugarplums, dried fruits, nuts, flavors, rolled in silvery sugar]
Fairy: are not you he/That frights the maidens of the villagery; Skim milk, and sometimes labour in the quern/And bootless make the breathless housewife churn [Themed cocktail: coconut milk cooler – my own recipe developed after some experimentation – served spiked or not, to taste]
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob
And on her wither’d dewlap pour the ale. [An assortment of ales]
III, 1 BOTTOM: I pray you, commend me to Mistress Squash, your mother, and to Master Peascod, your father. [Salad of baby greens with cardamom roasted squash]
IV, 1: Bottom: Truly, a peck of provender: I could munch your good dry oats. [chocolate cherry oatmeal cookies]
Titania: I have a venturous fairy that shall seek
The squirrel’s hoard, and fetch thee new nuts. [OK, for this I just threw a few bowls of mixed nuts around the place]
Vi 1: Thisbe: These My lips, This cherry nose, These yellow cowslip cheeks, Are gone, are gone [see cookies, above]
Lovers, make moan: His eyes were green as leeks. [Leek and celery pie]
Related post: The Synthesizing Mind, or Why I Like Cooking