Very experienced cook.

No, you’re not in the wrong place. I have not suddenly changed from writing about art and photography to giving cooking lessons. I am exploring an idea that occurred to me recently. I think our cooking style reflects our photographic style, and maybe vise versa.

Weird, but stay with me for a minute.

Cooking styles

Do you cook? I hope so. It is rewarding and satisfying. A kind of art in itself.

What kind of cook are you? Do you follow the “rules” (e.g. follow the recipes) or do you “wing it”? Is your pantry and refrigerator well stocked so you can always come up with something? Or do you take your recipe to the store and buy what you need for it? Is your goal to exactly recreate the dish as specified in the recipe or do you apply creative license? Do you plan our the week or months meal list ahead of time or do you come home and try to decide what is for dinner that night?

We are all in different situations and make different tradeoffs. For instance, if you are cooking for a large family you tend to do things different than if you are cooking for one or two. If you are cooking for someone with food restrictions you may have to plan more carefully.

I’m intrigued by the idea that how we cook gives some insight on us as an artist. I think you will see where I lean in my thinking.

Recipe follower

Some people follow recipes exactly. They will not even try it unless they have all the ingredients and equipment necessary before starting.

If you exactly follow the recipe I think that says something about your style. Could it mean you are likely to follow influential artists and try to create in their style? Do you enjoy going to workshops where a leader will guide you to locations and help you compose shots to get similar results as theirs?

Maybe this means you also browse social media and photo sites looking for images you like to give yourself ideas for your work. Is your reaction “I wish I had shot that; I’ll try to do it”? Then research the location so you can plan to go there and capture something similar.

Recipe is a suggestion

Another approach I observe is the cook who looks at recipes, but mostly for motivation and ideas. They will freely substitute ingredients and end up with something substantially different from the recipe. Good, but not the same.

This cook, I believe, has greater confidence and experience. They know they can cook. That is not the issue. What I want to make tonight and how do I like it seems to be the basis of their decisions. A recipe, to them, is a kind of general guide. Descriptive, not prescriptive, to get sociological.

The recipe calls for an ingredient they don’t care for, so they substitute something else. It calls for something they don’t have, so they use something they have on hand. Not random substitutions, but based on knowledge of the ingredients and their effect on the dish. All the while, they know they will create something good, regardless of how close to the recipe it is.

Artistically, it seems this person is more likely to say yes, thanks, but I see it a little different. I’m going to shoot this other view. They have the confidence to follow their own vision, even if an instructor is trying to lead them in a different way.

What recipe?

Another cooking style I see is someone who seldom if ever consults a recipe. After all, most cuisine styles are fairly simple. There are general principle about how to combine things and what things go together to create certain flavors. Italian food has certain patterns based on certain ingredients, as does Mexican or Chinese or most any other recognizable type. When you learn the patterns almost any dish can be created. Most dishes are variations on the pattern. No recipe needed.

This person is experienced and confident. They can go into their pantry and quickly envision a dish based on what is there. If they served it to you, you would probably say “that is very good. What is it?”. And they would just say it is an Italian inspired dish they made up.

As an artist, they probably would not be in the instructor led workshop. They would just be out on their own, following their own muse, confident in their own decisions and style. Their attitude would be that they may not be as good as that instructor, but they would rather make their own decisions and go their own way.

The best style

Which of these styles is best? I think it is impossible to say. What you are is what is best for you.

But I wonder if there is a progression? When we start don’t we strictly follow recipes? As we get more confidence and experience perhaps we learn to be more free with the recipe. Eventually we learn the principles well enough that we give ourselves wide latitude in creating according to our own tastes.

I will admit that, in cooking, I am somewhere between the “recipe is a suggestion” and “what recipe?”. I have extensive files of recipes and cook books that I used to follow. If I have something in mind to fix I may still consult a recipe, but more for inspiration and to get an idea of what ingredients the recipe designer used. When the cooking starts I am likely to set the recipe aside and “wing it”. What I serve may only slightly resemble the original, but it will be good. 🙂

No one told me how

This comes around to a fundamental truth of being an artist: you are on your own. You are solely responsible for your art. No one can make the artistic decisions for you. It is a lonely but empowering place.

You can either spend your time copying your favorite teacher or develop the skill and confidence to go your own way. Until you find your own way it is not really your art yet.

Even when you are determined to be your own person, it doesn’t come with instructions. It can be very difficult and unsettling: this or that subject, what treatment or color palette, reject what I used to do and go a different direction? No one is there to guide you. It really is a “the buck stops here” situation.

Hence, the idea that the person who can endure, even thrive, in this situation probably also expresses himself in his cooking. I believe the artist is often comfortable also making creative decisions in the kitchen. Recipes become unnecessarily restrictive – just another set of rules.


If you haven’t thought it already, let me be the first to say this is totally unscientific. It is my hypothesis. My own idea. I do not intend to do a scientific study to prove or disprove it. I just put this out here to help us understand ourselves better as artists. Let’s just think about it and kick it around.

I don’t want you to perceive this as a black & white, all or nothing proposition. It is more a metaphor of art. For instance, if I am trying a new recipe for a dish I am unfamiliar with, I usually follow a recipe. Once. 🙂

What do you think? Is there any correlation between artists and their cooking style? Let’s discuss it! I want to hear from you!

Excuse me for now, though. I have to go home and figure out what is for dinner.