The Art of Cooking

In school they’re called the “culinary arts,” but beyond the classroom, we rarely hear cooking, baking, winemaking and brewing referred to as art. But anyone who’s labored over unrisen dough or caringly stirred risotto knows that food and beverage preparation is inherently creative, and undoubtedly art.


To prepare food, even by recipe, allows the artist’s unique attributes to shine. Notes, textures and aromas are developed by the maker's careful (or haphazard) hand. The end results are as unique as if the chefs had taken watercolor to paper. At Pen and Portal, we encourage the exploration of life as art and inspiration, and cooking is one way to do that daily. 

To feed the physical body, we must eat. And one way to feed the soul is to cook. Exploring food preparation as an art might be unfamiliar territory. But your next meal may be enhanced by looking at the plate before you as a living, nourishing canvas.


The act of cooking is only one facet of the gastronomic experience. Food is eternally rooted in culture, serving as a conduit for human connection, a three-dimensional demonstration of what’s traditionally considered “art” and a spiritual release for many people. We explore these facets below.


Cooking as an expression of culture


“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.” - Cesar Chavez


Indigenous spices, vegetables that require the soil of your homeland, milk from cows that gently graze specific pastures  – cooking is inexplicably tied to place and culture. The rich spices of India and the milky textures of Alpine cheese are linked to the daily lives of the people. Traditions are passed on through generations, such as children gathering to fold empanadas with their grandmother.


Engaging with family recipes is a tangible way to connect with your culture and roots. You can explore your history through spice, taking in the aromas as they simmer on the stove. You connect with your grandparents or great-grandparents as your hands gently knead the eggs and flour to make pasta. Cooking is an approachable art form, and a way to express your history.


Food as a conduit for human connection


“Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.” -Alan D. Wolfelt


There are few things more generous than sharing a homemade meal with others. It’s an intimate experience to nourish one’s friends and family. They trust you with their bodies and experiences for a night. You spend hours in the kitchen, exponentially more time spent in preparation than you’ll spend around the table. But the end result is a kindness unmatched. It’s similar to when an artist displays his work in a gallery. Except that visual art relies upon one sense, and food connects with four of the five senses, leaving more room for offense or error. It’s a mutual trust between the chef and the guest – I will put my heart into this meal, and I will enjoy your labors.


There is a special camaraderie shared around a table. The art of conversation wafts in the air, gently prodded by red wine or rich sauces. The food creates a social buffer, a topic to fall back on if all else fails. Where did the recipe come from? How did you learn to make this unique element? What inspired you to take on such a complex meal? Each question revealing a little about the culinary artist.


Food presentation as an art exhibition


It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate – you know someone’s fingers have been all over it. -Julia Child


How food looks and is arranged on a plate is arguably more important than the taste. Food’s appearance, portion sizes, sear marks and color all determine how appetizing a meal is before a morsel lands upon your tongue.


Chefs take pride in their art, carefully combining flavors and visually appealing elements, plating them with care. Too much meat can make a plate appear dense and heavy. Too few colors makes the plate look unhealthy and bland. But a perfectly proportioned and arranged vessel can leave partakers drooling.


Cooking as a spiritual release


“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” -Harriet van Horne


Above all, cooking and preparing food is one of the few times in your day where you prepare to nourish your body. If you think about it, cooking is actually a beautiful process. You prepare ingredients with care, combining your favorite flavors and ingredients, slicing and baking when necessary. It truly is an act of spirit.


What part of your day, or act you complete regularly, is an art form that you rarely explore? Start by thinking about how you prepare meals. Could you invest more in this art of nourishment? We’d love to hear what artforms you uncover in your daily life.

Hollie Ziskind