What can cooking teach us about creativity?
The more time I spend honing my culinary skills, the more I realize how many marketing lessons can be learned in the kitchen. One of my favorite ways to learn what works and what doesn’t with food is by watching. Specifically, the show “Chopped.”
Chopped is a high-energy, fast-paced cooking competition that challenges four up-and-coming chefs to turn a selection of everyday ingredients into an extraordinary three-course meal in a finite amount of time. After each course, a contestant gets “chopped” by a panel of esteemed judges until the last chef standing claims victory and a $10,000 cash trophy.
In one episode, two chefs were facing off in the dessert round. One young and the other at least 15 years his senior. One would rarely expect to see the ingredients they were given, which included Israeli Couscous, on a dessert plate. And they had 30 minutes to make sweet magic with them.
At the end of the round, the young chef had prepared a dessert plate that looked for all the world like a Kandinsky expressionist piece. It was colorful and well-composed. The additional ingredients he brought to the plate to compliment the main four were tiny strokes of brilliance. And the techniques he used to highlight each of the four ingredients were reminiscent of what you might see on an episode of Iron Chef. The kid’s got “chops” and he wasn’t afraid to show them.
The “seasoned” chef’s dessert couldn’t have been more different. It was monochromatic resembling a rice pudding and featured an unassuming garnish on top. Nothing to write home about, visually speaking.
In the end, the seasoned chef prevailed in spite of the fact that the younger chef brought more adventure and whimsy to the dish. All the dishes from the young chef were remarkably photogenic, precise and a remarkable display of creativity. Yet, his technical approach left the judges hungry for more harmony on the plate. Whereas his more experienced counterpart showed his creativity by transforming unexpected ingredients into something familiar and unified that was satisfying to the palate.
Cleverness isn’t always a true measure of creativity. Often times the most effective creative solution to any given problem is rooted in a deep knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. And if the basic components you’re working with are new and unfamiliar (to you OR your audience), sometimes the best way to present them is in a tried and true manner.