Readers of Food and Wine Gazette know that we are very interested in the creative process. So as an interval from profiles of forthcoming chefs that featured at Chef’s Revolution we would like to focus a bit on creativity and the creative process.
What triggered our interest is the underlying theme of these chefs who in their own ways may be considered as artists. They are innovators like creators who push boundaries and find inspiration everywhere they look.
As an inspiration for creativity we recommend you watch this fun video on 29 ways to stay creative.
There is no magic rule to being creative. Many people ask how we find ideas to write on a daily basis. It is difficult to say other than if you allow your creativity to flow, you will eventually have a pool of ideas, some of which will work, others which can go on the back burner either to be forgotten forever or to be revived when the time is right.
Writing is something we enjoy though food, wine and travel may be considered our passion. So it was an eye-opening experience to be at Chef’s Revolution and see how some of the world’s best chefs are inspired.
The common thread among all chefs was the quality of the ingredients. But then creativity kicks in.
For example, Jonnie Boer from De Librije, who was one of the chefs to revolutionise the Dutch cuisine scene, spoke about how his aim is always to take something that does not taste good and try to make it good (such as a tulip). This is the De Librije spirit. “We do not try to emulate others by doing it right. What I am interested in is that even if it is not right, it is mine.” Boer has a passion for ingredients which he finds close by. “When I started to use Dutch lamb people would laugh. Why cannot we use porcini mushrooms which grow nearby? Why do we have to get fish from Brittany when it will swim to the North Sea anyway?” he asks.
Richard Ekkebus, from Amber, Hong Kong for example takes inspiration from travel. He says how going to Japan (which he does four times a year) is an amazing eye-opener and somewhere where he learns something every time he visits.
Tim Raue from the 2 Michelin starred Berlin restaurant by the same name says that when it comes to cuisine “you need to find yourself in a plate”. “It took me long to find the right balance. I cook the way I am. I have a strong character so I use strong flavours. I want to take clients to the border, sometimes I push them over the border.”
Massimo Bottura from Osteria Francescana allows himself to be inspired by modern art and music of which he is known to have great collections. But then he also speaks about passion, about allowing yourself to try new things even if you may fail. “You need to go deep into things to be creative. Just skimming on the surface will not work,” he says. “If you trust your ideas you have to keep going. Sooner or later they will be recognised.”
Dave Beran from Next (together with Grant Achatz from Alinea) probably pushes himself to the limit. The concept of the restaurant is already incredible. (Read about it in an earlier post on Food and Wine Gazette). But on top of that, the restaurant is re-invented with a new theme every three months. “Two weeks into the new concept, he is already thinking about the next menu.”
Rene Redzepi of Noma fame is one who is prepared to take risks to push his creativity to the limit. He recalls the year when they opened the restaurant and found that given it was a very bad winter, they had nothing in storage. “All we could serve for six months was onions, beets and cabbages. Now you can understand that it is incredibly horrifying to have to innovate with beets and potatoes,” he said. “We therefore realised we had to find a way to store food that would still taste delicious in winter.” Noma have taken this seriously and have experimented with fermentation. “We are still at the surface,” Redzepi says. “The possibilities are endless.” At Noma they are also working creatively to come up with a way to use fermentation as a way to eliminate food waste. You can also read the amusing anecdote about when he served ants in an upcoming post.
Quique Da Costa from the Spanish restaurant of his own name is a creative genius who however did not follow the paths of other great chefs who travelled to get experiences with different chefs. He has been working in the same restaurant since he was 14 years old. He gets inspired by the produce from near the restaurant. He gets his food from within 80 kilometres of his restaurant. “I would need to live 500 years to benefit fully from what’s around me,” he says. He allows his passion to foster his creativity. “I am lucky that I share the nicest moments in my life with those who have a passion for cooking. I could not have dreamt of sharing my passion with so many people.”
Swedish chef Bjorn Frantzen of Frantzen restaurant spoke about a trip to Japan. “As chefs, when we travel we sometimes have to eat two lunches and a dinner per day to absorb as much as possible. I realised in Japan that despite all that food we never felt full. We then noticed that the reason is because they do not serve bread or dairy products. Now bread is very important in Sweden but one night we decided not to serve bread and instead we made a soup with fermented rye. We therefore gave flavour without stuffing our diners,” he said.
Another great chef who is self-taught but who is pushing boundaries with his creativity is Sang-Hoon Degeimbre from L’Air du Temps in Belgium. He sums cuisine as product, technique and emotion. One element which is incredibly innovative is the creation of flavoured waters which is served with each dish in his restaurant. Degeimbre has been on a culinary journey and as he says “I have won some, lost some. My cuisine has evolved but I do not know what it will be like in the future. I want to learn more, taste more. This is the richest job in the world because it combines art, biology and gastronomy.”
Grant Achatz, the chef from Alinea who is known for his incredible creations and considered a genius of molecular cuisine (read about him in an earlier post on Food and Wine Gazette) sums up creativity as a lot of hard work. “There is a myth that you wake up at night with an idea, write it down and go back to sleep. Creativity is really all about hard work, keeping your eyes open, travelling, and working in a highly collaborative environment. When they created the sugar balloon, the idea to make food float had taken them 7 years to come up with.
What we can take from all this is to come up with new ideas every day and to discipline yourself to write them down, you need to keep an open mind and listen to others, to read as much as possible not necessarily in your area of interest, to always have a pen and a notebook in hand and to collaborate. Team-work is essential for creativity.