The relationship between cooking, creativity and the kitchen environment is one of my big interests, not surprisingly. I love experimental cooking (my family aren’t so sure… home fermented sauerkraut, anyone?) and view food as a vehicle for bringing other cultures into the home kitchen. The effects of a holiday can and should be prolonged by the simple trick of food shopping while away and then recreating dishes with the ingredients you enjoyed, eg, spices from Sri Lanka, or Spanish ham, French cheeses and Greek herbs. The foreign wrappers are exotically pretty too. To describe these experiences I coined the term ‘food travelling’ in the introduction to my book Kitchen Culture.
So Jonathan Jones’s art blog in the Guardian in which he makes a case for cooking as the first, the original, art form set me thinking,
Could cooking be the first art, as opposed to a pragmatic survival strategy? What about cave paintings and Ice Age fertility figures? Wasn’t early cookery mainly meat scorched on a fire with some boiled seeds or grains? But Jones makes a compelling case for cooking as an art form by linking Renaissance painting with the rise of food culture. 16th century paintings show complex and beautiful arrangements of food, cutlery, glasses, crockery and tablecloths. Leonardo da Vinci, a vegetarian, left behind notebooks of jottings on food shopping and cooking.
Modern art offers us an extraordinarily wide context. Illustration from Leonard Koren, The Art of Arranging things
Are we creative enough with our cooking today? We want to be - Jones suggests that the artistry involved in following recipes aims to create a gap between our cooking and eating behaviour and the crude appetites of the body or the moral failing of gluttony. Maybe that’s true, and it’s one more ingredient in the complicated relationship we have with food, cooking and food politics.
Art on the grid cupboard by Lucy Turner
But a useful message to take from all this is that humankind has an extremely long history of finding pleasure in beauty and creativity in the kitchen. I personally reckon this is on the increase as kitchens play an ever greater role in our lives, creating a welcome virtuous circle. So enjoy.