The Blank Canvas


The idea of “food as art” is not new. In fact, it’s a pretty common cliché. With all the competitive-reality-cooking shows out there, it’s not hard to understand why. And while I roll my eyes with the rest of you when some “cheftestant” spouts the “food is art” line, there is, like with all cliches, a bit of truth in there somewhere.

First of all, it is true that cooking is certainly a creative endeavor, and is naturally a form of artistic expression, not unlike painting or sculpture. Those of us that are blessed enough to both cook and write decently well know that there is truly art in a well-prepared, well-thought out, and well-enjoyed meal. But this is, still, an abstraction.

Where the art in food really lies is in its elements. There’s an obvious analogy to a painter or sculptor’s choice of medium or subject here, but I think it goes much deeper than that. It’s understanding this rule as the foundation for creating good food that makes good cooks great – whether they have worked in fine restaurants, appeared on “Top Chef,” or just feed their own family. It’s that understanding that I pursue as I write this blog.

A friend asked me a very simple question the other day. She simply asked me what she could make for lunch that would be easy and healthy. I realized, as I tried to think of something to say, that what she needed was elements, not recipes. She doesn’t need me to tell her how to cook or what to cook. She only needs a blank canvas that she can fill herself.

In my kitchen, there are a few “canvases” that I return to over and over again. Lately, it’s been pizza, with homemade dough. The only recipe I’m using is the one for the dough, and even that I’m changing and messing around with each time I make it. I’ve been doing the same with making fresh pasta lately too.

This desire to see food as both sustenance as well as art is part of why I’m so excited that I’ll be teaching cooking at a summer day camp for middle schoolers in a couple of weeks. I’ve already definitely decided to make pasta with them, and hopefully the pizza dough, too. It’s exciting to think of what they’ll come up with.

I used to go to the local craft store and buy canvas and paint, thinking that I could do something that would be as interesting as what my brother creates with paint and canvas, but I never could. I cook, and I write, and I’m sustained.

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