I love getting all ‘sperimental in the kitchen. (My boyfriend would emphasize the ‘mental’ part of experimental! ) Cooking has always been something that has come very naturally to me, and I’m pretty good at my particular style of culinary creation. I’ve never been one to really follow recipes. I’m kinda your ‘have-a-crack’ cook. I’ll see or taste or think of something, and just decide to have a go at making my version of it. Even if I do happen to follow a recipe, I never *follow* it. I’m always exchanging or mixing up or adding or merging two recipes into one.
This has resulted in some amazing culinary productions. I make this amazing quinoa, chicken, kale and avocado dish. I ‘invented’ this amazing green thai chicken risotto. And my boyfriend loves all the cookies and biscuits I randomly come up with (cranberry and white chocolate were a particular hit).
Just as often, it has also resulted in some spectacular culinary failures.
And I mean truly spectacular.
Three of note that are worth sharing:
#1. About five years ago, I was having a dinner party for my birthday, and I wanted to make something truly original and awesome and creative. I’d been watching a bit of Jamie Oliver, and loved how he would talk about the ways flavours matched and connected with each other (oh sweet ‘art, the orange and the fennel, it’s bloody good together, yeah? Just lovely-jubbly). And I wanted to come up with my own Magnificent Flavour Combination.
What I came up with, was garlic ice cream.
Hold on, stay with me!
You know how when you roast garlic, it caramelizes and is so delicious and sweet and amazing?
And you know how real vanilla-bean ice cream also has a caramelized flavour to it, and is also delicious and sweet and amazing?
Yeah? Well, why not mix them both together, says young-and-foolish Jess.
So she did.
Thankfully, I tested this out before my actual dinner party (small blessings). It was a high-holy disaster. The flavours did not bond and sing and transcend into otherworldliness. No. It just tasted like garlic. In ice cream. It tasted like a dreadful indecisive sweet-savoury-smoosh accident.
#2. At the start of this year — in fact, at my ‘good bye morning tea’ at work — I decided to make ‘compost cookies‘. My teammates and I had long discussed the merits of compost cookies, after one of us had randomly stumbled onto the recipe. Basically, a compost cookie is like a normal chocolate chip cookie, with crushed potato chips and pretzels in it. (So, you know, super healthy!). And on my last day at work, I decided I wanted to make them for this little group of people whom I loved so much. But did I follow a recipe? Ummm, no. Being gung-ho and headstrong, I just kind of put everything together that I thought should go into it. (As a side-note, my boyfriend and his parents thought it was high-LAR-ious watching me struggle to slowly add potato chips into the food mixer. Smith’s Lightly Salteds went flying everywhere!).
The end result of my experimentation was a big tray of biscuit. Yes, singular. Each of my carefully shaped little gob-lets of cookie dough spread out and morphed into one super biscuit. With potato chips and pretzels sticking out of the top. I was in HYSTERICS. (Probably a massive sugar high, too, cos this type of no-recipe cooking means you have to taste a lot.) I was literally lying on the floor laughing, while my boyfriend made packet-mix brownies (which were meant to be the back-up plan in case my cookies didn’t work out [what could possible go wrong?] and which instead turned into the star of my morning tea show!). So I broke my giant tray-shaped biscuit into normal portion sizes, took it to work, and we ate then anyway. At least these guys still tasted good!
#3. And then last week. I decided to try to make a sweet potato ice cream. Paleo style. Why? Just because. Because I like eating paleo style. Because my sister was coming over for dinner and I wanted to do something a little different. Because I’m crazy like that. In my head, it seemed awesome – roasted sweet potato, blended with coconut cream, raw cacao powder, orange zest, honey, dates, cinnamon, cardamom and all-spice. Then chucked in the ice cream-maker to freeze. (It should be notes that my dinner guests were less than enthused when I explained what was to come after the main!)
Unfortunately, my Big Ice Cream Idea hadn’t set in time for dessert, so we ended up having it drizzled on top of my little paleo pumpkin spice muffins as a sauce, instead of the delicate scoop (or quinelle, for you Masterchef fans) that I had imagined. It actually just tasted like a rich choc-orange sauce, and went quite nicely with the little cakes. But still not what I’d call, you know, a raging success. And definitely not what I’d envisaged in the first place.
Where is all this leading to? Well. I am fearless in the kitchen. I have so much fun breaking the rules. When things work, they can be an absolute triumph. When things don’t, I don’t mind playing the role of the class clown whom everyone can laugh at while eating their root-vegetable-based dessert. Or hell, even throwing the lot out and starting from scratch. (Or ordering take-out!)
And I will have a go at absolutely anything. Guava snow balls? Peking duck pancakes? Raw cashew cheesecake? Hells-to-the-yeah, bring it on!
It would be awesome to feel this fearless and free in other areas of my creative life. With writing, I can feel so stilted by what other people will think — oh my goodness, so-and-so won’t like this, everyone’ll think I’m an idiot, this is so stupid, it’ll never work, it’s not how you do it, you sound so dumb, what will people say about you? Yet with food, I find it so easy to say ‘Well, if Liesl doesn’t like it, she just won’t eat it, it’s fine! She can just have a cup of tea and a piece of fruit instead’. No problems. Detachment from the outcome and its reception. Which actually results in a crazy amount of creative freedom.
The act of creating can be very exposing, leaving us vulnerable. Putting ourselves out there for the consumption of others can be daunting. And inevitably some will like it (well, unless it’s garlic ice cream), and just as inevitably, some will LOATHE it. Some will even loathe you. Yet if we limit our creations to what we think others will like, we run the risk of watering down our creativity until it resembles nothing more than luke-warm French Onion Soup – tasty in a generic way, but lacking any sort of oomph. Or personality. Or creative inspiration.
By trying to cater to everyone, we end up appealing to no one.
By being scared of how something will be received, we stunt our own creative process and flow.
And by worrying about what the people who consume our creations will think, we lose sight of why we create art in the first place.
So, now when I write, I am aiming to embody the garlic ice cream spirit. Fearless, vulnerable, and free from constraints. It’s the best way to create.
Care to join me?