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Approaching Food as Art

The way we view food is usually ingrained in us from the time we are little.  We know that onions and meat go well together (if we eat meat); that cheese is good with crackers; that ice cream complements cake; that strawberries go well with cream.  The list goes on and on.

Passive acceptance of food patterns can hold us back in our kitchen creativity.  This may not be a bad thing for everyone.  Some people don’t have adventurous taste buds.  My mother, for instance, prefers simple foods, namely cheese and crackers for dinner, ham sandwiches made literally of ham and bread with nothing else, and steamed vegetables with nothing but salt to flavor them.

Suffice it to say, I grew up with very little food variety at home.  Most of my food came from boxed, frozen, or fast food sources.  I always liked to cook, but what I was actually allowed to cook was limited and somewhat monotonous.  It was a big day in our house when I asked to switch from “cooking” boxed mashed potatoes to real potatoes.  Bigger still was the request to attempt real mac and cheese for myself (although I still love boxed mac and cheese, the way I love Taco Bell).  It wasn’t until I left home that I realized that there was a wide world of food out there, and I didn’t have to be a professional chef to figure out how to cook most of it to my own liking.  A few simple tricks can go a long way.

Now, I like to try new things, to stretch the boundaries, and to treat food as many treat music and literature–as an art with limitless possibilities.  I feel fortunate to have been able to learn the foods of many world cultures–it is a window into the cultures themselves.  I also find that learning about the ingredients in food prep leads to a deeper appreciation for the soil that produced it, which I think is important and often forgotten in hyper-driven urban life.  Finally, it’s just plain fun to play with food.

If you like the fancy foods that pair unlikely partner ingredients when you go out to eat, why shouldn’t you bring that curiosity into your own kitchen?  Recipes you find online don’t have to be followed as gospel–why not take out an ingredient you’re not crazy about and replace it with something you like better?  I call this seeing the “rhythm” of food patterns, knowing what can substitute for what, and knowing your own preferences and those of your family well enough to be able to throw a good meal together even if you only have 5 or 6 ingredients in the pantry.  It’s almost like a game challenge, your own personal Iron Chef.

And if you already play with your food–then I just hope you’ll enjoy the recipes!  And please give feedback and additional variations.

2 Responses to “Approaching Food as Art”

  1. Stephanie says:

    I’m laughing at the part about making real potatoes being a big deal. I had no clue that any sort of ethnic food beyond Chinese existed growing up. I had no idea there was more than 1 way to prepare chicken besides chicken cutlets. I had no idea there were any other fish you could eat besides swordfish and thought the only way to eat it was with lemon. I thought there were 2 ways to eat red meat: filet mignon and stew. And I had no idea there was any way to prepare veggies besides boiled and with a little butter. The upside of all this is that my mother is probably the best dinner guest ever- she thinks everything I make tastes good even when it really doesn’t.

  2. […] looking at the option of recreating it on your own.  Substituting ingredients may be necessary.  Understanding food patterns is essential to recreating meals and adding your own flair to the […]

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