Welcome back to our creative outlets series! The holidays are a busy time, filled with friends, family, and most importantly, food. (Okay fine, friends and family are most important but food is a really close third.)

I developed my deep-seated appreciation for food at an early age. My mom is an excellent cook, and through her daily meals and cake decorating profession she proved time and time again that cooking is a creative craft. Through my childhood baking to the culinary experiments of adulthood I have come to learn the same. Cooking is the perfect combination of art and science.

Creativity in the Kitchen

So, what makes cooking creative? There are a lot of components.

My famous pub burgers

My famous pub burgers.

It starts at the very beginning of the process: choosing a recipe. I consider this to be somewhat of an art form, and my greatest culinary secret weapon. You see, it’s not that I’m a good cook, it’s that I’m great at finding recipes. There are a lot of recipes in the world, and I’ve developed a sixth sense for finding ones that are automatic additions to my cooking rotation.

Another source of creativity comes from ingredients. Whether you want to try new combinations of traditional flavors, or challenge yourself to work with new and exciting ingredients, there’s a lot of possibilities. I often find myself converting recipes to use what I already have lying around. It doesn’t always work out well, but through trial and error I’ve discovered some fun dishes.

The Artistic (and Scientific) Method

One of the aspects of cooking I find most interesting is how everyone has a different approach to the craft (much like artists do). Some chefs throw ingredients together, never making a dish the same way twice. Some are methodical, taking care in every step. Others are a blend of the two, or view the process merely as a means to an end.

I pick a recipe from Pinterest and I’ll try it the first time verbatim. I make notes as to what worked, what didn’t, what I liked, what I didn’t, what was needed and/missing, etc. Then, the next time I try to incorporate that. Rita Barnes

I tend to be the methodical, zen-like chef. Before I begin, I read the recipe several times, then create a complete mise en place with everything I need. That way, once I start cooking, I never have to rush, and everything usually flows smoothly.

Creativity in the Face of Culinary Adversity

One of the most creative aspects of cooking is what to do when something goes wrong. Whether it’s knowing what to add to offset extreme salty, bitter, sweet, or sour flavors, or just dousing bland food in hot sauce, there’s usually a way to save most cooking mishaps.

One of my favorite culinary adventures was the time we hosted Friendsgiving, a mid-November Thanksgiving dinner with friends. About an hour before the turkey would’ve been done, the oven stopped working. Luckily, there was enough residual heat to keep the bird cooking, albeit slowly. We just had to find a way to distract our hungry houseguests. So, we broke out dessert and served everyone pie. Once the pie was gone and the turkey still wasn’t done, we started serving courses of side dishes, finally finishing the evening with a delicious and beautifully cooked turkey. Everyone was full and happy and the tradition of Backwards Thanksgiving was born.

Christian's molten chocolate lava cake

Christian’s molten chocolate lava cake

Plating

Pretty food tastes better. That’s not the designer or the idealist in me talking, it’s science.

Before we ever taste our food, we eat with our eyes. Our perception of the food changes based on how it is presented. Not only that, beautiful food is more fun to make and serve, and it gives you the opportunity to stretch your creative muscles.

As a designer, I’m very particular about the presentation of food. It can’t just taste good, it’s got to look good too! Food comes in such an amazing array of colors allowing me to create visually stunning plates. Christian Knightly

Just last week we made almost 250 holiday cookies for our clients. We took extra care in our selection of recipes and packaging. We were even able to incorporate some of our graphic design skills in the baking process. Christian used his Illustrator knowledge to art direct the recreation of our brand colors with food coloring.

Treefrog's homemade holiday gifts. Featuring salted caramel snickerdoodles, gingerbread frogs, and TCX brand candy cane cookies.

Treefrog’s homemade holiday gifts. Featuring salted caramel snickerdoodles, gingerbread frogs, and TCX brand candy cane cookies.

Parties and Special Occasions

One of my favorite elements of a themed party is making food to match the theme. From bigger parties to small movie nights with friends, we find any opportunity to cook something to match. Just yesterday we made plans with Christian to watch Princess Mononoke and make Japanese food.

Making food to match a special occasion can be quite the challenge. We’ve had hobbit parties with assortments of cured sausage, cheese, and fruit; a rainbow and unicorn themed baby shower for Rita with rainbow cupcakes, unicorn horns, and more; and a Harry Potter party with pumpkin juice, butterbeer, pretzel wands, shepherds pie, and butterbeer cupcakes.

Butterbeer cupcakes in the herbology classroom at Christian's Harry Potter Party

Butterbeer cupcakes in the herbology classroom at Christian’s Harry Potter Party

My greatest culinary triumph was making a simple dish, inspired from a comment my wife made in passing. “Nobody makes Frito pie in Florida.” Well, that sounds like a challenge. With a little bit of research and some secret shopping trips, the whole thing turned into an adventure, and the meal hit it’s target: one free trip back to childhood. Dan Bookman

All in all, there a lot of ways to be creative in the kitchen. Whether you’re experimenting with new recipes, presenting a gorgeous plate of food, or presenting your meal with a theme, the possibilities are endless.

From all of us here at Treefrog: Happy holidays, and happy cooking!

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